It’s that time of year again, when the many of biggest names in the Republican Party converge on the nation’s capital — or at least a Maryland convention center just down the river — for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC.
Over 11,000 Republicans from across the country were to hear from party leaders past, present and future – with a decent chance that the eventual 2016 presidential nominee could be among this bunch. Notably absent this time around: Jeb Bush.
Capping the weekend is the CPAC Straw Poll, giving attendees the chance to vote their choice of a Republican presidential candidate.
“This is our 41st year and, in the past, every time we have done a straw poll we had a good idea within the presidential candidate possibilities who would be the favorite,” said American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, host of CPAC.
2014 is not short on candidates, with 26 in total highlight the ballot.
Last year’s winner, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (addressing the group today) faces stiff competition, including the 2012 vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Tea Party darlings Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and embattled Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, among others.
Past winners who have gone on to secure the Republican Party nomination for president include Mitt Romney (2007-2009, 2012), President George W. Bush (2000), President Ronald Reagan (1980,’84).
Here are some of this year’s favorites:
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky
The reigning 2013 CPAC straw poll winner, Paul has maintained his Tea Party and libertarian base. His biggest challenge is likely from Sen. Ted Cruz, causing Tea Partiers to choose between the two candidates.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas
The Tea Party darling, Sen. Cruz remains extremely popular within the furthest right wing of the party. His stubbornness during budget negotiations, refusal to raise the debt ceiling and continued calls to repeal “Obamacare” further solidify his tea party base.
Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin
Ryan became a national figure two years ago as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee. The House Budget Chairman worked with Senate counterpart Democrat Patty Murray to reach a budget deal and avoid a second government shutdown. The up-and-comer will be popular with moderate Republicans on a national level.
Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin
Walker’s popularity exploded when he took on the teachers’ union in the cheese head state. Likely the Tea Party choice for those looking for a less extreme candidate and alternative to Cruz, his popularity should carry if he decides to run.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida
Last year’s CPAC straw poll runner-up, Rubio has kept a relatively low profile over the past year. His advocacy of immigration reform hurt him among conservatives. Still he remains extremely popular among Latinos and with recent comments on income inequality looks to be making a play for the large, historically Democratic voter pool.
Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey
The presumed front-runner just a few months ago, Christie’s stock has slipped over the past months due to the George Washington Bridge scandal and claims of political threats to the Hokboken Mayor. While Christie’s charismatic personality should carry him until the bridge investigation is complete, nonetheless, he’s taken a step back.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Arkansas
The dark horse of the group, onetime Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee led Republican candidates in a 2016 presidential poll released last month, according to CNN. The former Baptist minister garners his biggest support from the evangelical demographic, which might be enough to win the straw poll, but will it be enough in 2016?
Big names including Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are on the ballot along with career respected lawmakers, including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Unfortunately for this group, the big names don’t have enough credibility as party leaders and aren’t taken seriously as contenders, while the respected politicians don’t have the national name recognition to win.