WASHINGTON — Conservative activists picked Sen. Rand Paul on Saturday as their preferred presidential nominee for 2016, in an early but often unreliable snapshot of the Republican Party’s base.
The Kentucky lawmaker, whose father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, ran for president three times, topped the annual straw poll taken at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Paul captured 25 percent of the vote, narrowly beating out Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who earned 23 percent.
Rick Santorum, a presidential candidate in 2012, finished third and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was snubbed by conference organizers, came in fourth.
Participants in the three-day gathering are often younger-than-average Republican voters and their preference for Paul reflected the libertarian bent of that voting bloc. More than half of the 2,930 people who cast ballots were between the ages of 18 and 25.
Many attendees sported “Stand with Rand” stickers, intended to show appreciation for the senator’s recent 13-hour speech on the floor of the Senate objecting to President Barack Obama’s policies regarding the use of military drones.
There were 23 names on this year’s ballot, including two Republican governors who were not invited to attend the gathering — Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son of a president and brother to another, asked that his name be removed from consideration, citing the distance until the 2016 campaign will begin in earnest. He spoke at the conference on Friday.
Results of presidential election-year straw polls have proven more accurate indicators of the eventual Republican nominee than polls taken years in advance.
Straw poll winners who were never within striking distance of the nomination include Ron Paul, evangelical leader Gary Bauer and publishing scion Steve Forbes.
Also on Saturday, Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, called Obama a liar and urged her party to stand by conservative values.
“Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama, you lie,” the former Alaska governor said.
She was echoing a line from a Republican member of the House of Representatives who shouted at Obama during a speech to Congress in 2009 and accused him of lying about healthcare for illegal immigrants.
Palin’s line drew a big round of applause from the audience, made up of Republican lawmakers and conservative activists.
She took aim at Obama’s plans to push gun control legislation through Congress, including background checks for gun buyers.
“More background checks? Dandy idea, Mr. President. Should have started with yours,” she said in a speech peppered with one-liners and folksy language.
Palin called on Republicans to stick to conservative principles as they learn lessons from Obama’s 2012 election victory over Mitt Romney.
“We’re not here to put a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party. We’re not here to abandon our principles in a contest of government giveaways. That’s a game we will never, ever win. We’re here to restore America,” she said.