As Reason 24/7 dutifully informed you, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won his first (though likely not last) presidential poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday, edging his nearest rival Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) 25-23 percent. (And the National Jewish Democratic Council thinks that's a terrible thing, and reminded the world that the Democratic Party is better because it is more reliably for war on Iran.)
A CPAC poll victory is by no means a rocket-sled to real-world victory. His father Ron Paul won the poll twice, in 2010 and 2011. As Nick Gillespie wrote here after that second Ron Paul victory, it made the media quickly discount any possible significance to the poll, even though it presaged Paul coming in second in actual delegate votes on the floor at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last summer.
A Paulite blogging under the name "Barry Goldwater" gives special extra significance to Rand's victory since he says there was no organized liberty movement push to rack up CPAC votes for Rand as there has been for Ron in his victories, and that since Rand doesn't even have the sure support of his father's old fans, this proves Rand Paul's outreach strategy to the larger party must be working so far.
CNN on the also-rans:
The ballot included 23 Republicans with a national political profile as well as spots for write-ins and "undecided."
Former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and 43 others—including former president Richard Nixon, who died in 1994—received at least one write-in vote.
Another potential presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, asked not to be on the ballot. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who received 7%, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, were on the ballot but were not invited to speak on the main stage….
Rounding out the top 10 vote-getters were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 5%, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at 4%, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal at 4%, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin—the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate—with 3%.
Given that Palin also gave a prominent talk at the convention, I don't think you can credit the mere excitement of proximity for Paul doing so well. His filibuster over domestic drones–as well as being the only guy admitting the GOP needs an overhaul in the direction of more liberty, more civil liberty, and a foreign policy that at least recognizes the possibility that war isn't a necessary solution to all our disagreements with our enemies–are winning him genuine love in the young-skewing activist base of CPAC.
While at CPAC, Charles Murray, author of the welfare policy classic Losing Ground and What it Means to Be A Libertarian, gave a CPAC speech in which he recommended that the Party cool it on such social policy issues as gay marriage and abortion prohibition, to win a newer generation of voters.
George Will on ABC News Sunday celebrated the "rise of the libertarian strand" in the GOP at CPAC, including a more sane foreign policy and live and let live about drugs and gay marriage.
Rand Paul for his part used CPAC weekend to release his own newest legislative action on abortion:
S.583, a bill that would implement equal protection under the 14th Amendment for the right to life of each born and unborn human. This legislation does not amend or interpret the Constitution, but simply relies on the 14th Amendment, which specifically authorizes Congress to enforce its provisions.
From Section 1 of the 14th Amendment:
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
"The Life at Conception Act legislatively declares what most Americans believe and what science has long known- that human life begins at the moment of conception, and therefore is entitled to legal protection from that point forward," Sen. Paul said.
Paul has said various times, to me and other reporters, that he recognizes that the Party has to reach beyond its base to be a successful national party. At the same time, he doesn't seem to think that hewing so tightly to this anti-abortion position will lose him the independents and disaffected Democrats who might like him on civil liberties and foreign policy; I'm not as sure as he is. (He also insists that his position is perfectly libertarian–if you believe a developing fetus is a human life, laws protecting it are no more unlibertarian than laws against murder.)
While I'm not sure how CPAC activists en masse feel about abortion, Paul's re-emphasizing the issue right before the poll vote didn't hurt him. (Most recent national polls see a 54-44 split in favor of legal abortion.) In electoral terms, being an anti-abortion libertarian will undoubtedly make some Republicans more comfortable with him as it makes many Democrats and independents less comfortable with him. I don't think Paul is making the decision with cynical electoral calculation either way. For whatever reason, most national media focusing on Paul don't seem to consider his abortion stance something worth paying much attention to. That would likely change if and when he's the Republican presidential nominee.