Ted Cruz wins Values Voter Summit straw poll

Texas Senator Ted Cruz easily outdistanced his rivals to win the straw poll at the annual Values Voter Summit.

Cruz's victory was no surprise, given the response to his rousing speech to delegates on Friday. He garnered 25% of the vote to Ben Carson's 20%.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) came in third, with 12 percent of the vote.

As a signal of Carson’s popularity at the summit, the former Johns Hopkins University neurosurgeon came in first in the polling for vice president, winning 22 percent of the votes.

Cruz was the runner up in that contest, with 14 percent. Third was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) — who earned surprising admiration in his Friday evening address, despite his low showing in recent polls of potential 2016 contenders — with 11 percent of the vote.

The annual Washington summit is considered a right of passage for prospective Republican presidential candidates, and served as an opportunity for aspirants to make some of their most direct pitches to social conservatives before announcing their ambitions next year. 

The notable absence from the winners' list of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — another senator who is considered to be strongly eyeing a presidential run — is a sign of pervasive skepticism from the religious right.

Paul’s libertarian leanings have won him supporters among the young and tech-savvy, but he has yet to make inroads among Christian conservatives. The poor showing comes despite his attempts on Friday to appeal to the summit’s religious leanings. 

The summit also asks participants which issues they care about most deeply.

“Protecting religious liberty” easily won that contest with 39 percent of the vote, followed by abortion and “protecting natural marriage.”

It's no secret that the GOP establishment would prefer pushing social issues to the background in 2016. They are not likely to be successful. Evangelical Chirstians still make up a significant part of the Republican's activist base, and any backsliding on marriage and family issues will not be allowed.

Senator Cruz appears to be in the best position of any other 2016 candidate to take advantage of this reaility. While it will certainly help him in Iowa, where the Christian vote can be decisive in the Caucuses, the rock-ribbed Republicans in New Hampshire are a different story. But Cruz has fairly broad appeal across the party and should do well in all the early primary states.

We've stopped being surprised by Ben Carson's showing in these straw polls and he seems to be coming close to making a decision on whether or not to run. The people behind him are extremely well organized and apparently don't lack for funds. But being popular in the abstract and appearing on an actual ballot as a candidate are two different things. No one knows the true level of his support, which makes him a real wild card in the 2016 race.

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