Rand Paul tops Republican poll as Palin slams Obama
Conservative hardliner Paul emerges as preferred presidential candidate for 2016
US senator Rand Paul of Kentucky holds up binders, a reference to his recent 13-hour filibuster, as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has emerged as the preferred 2016 presidential candidate in a closely watched straw poll held at the biggest meeting of US political conservatives, a core constituency of the Republican Party.
Mr Paul, a favourite of the far-right Tea Party movement, has been buoyed by his recent 13-hour filibuster of CIA director nominee John Brennan. He took 25 per cent of the votes in the poll published at the end of the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
Republicans used the conference, attended by members of an important power base for the party, to regroup following last year’s election defeat to US president Barack Obama.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, John McCain’s Republican running mate in the 2008 presidential election, caused a stir with a lively speech on Saturday in which she sharply criticised Mr Obama, at one point comparing him with convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff.
“He [Mr Obama] is considered a good politician, which is like saying that Bernie Madoff was a good salesman,” she said as she sought to re-establish herself with conservatives.
On the president’s promise to make government more transparent, Mrs Palin said: “Barack Obama, you lie.”
Mrs Palin came 11th in the poll with just 3 per cent of voters believing her to be presidential candidate material. Mr Paul was followed closely by Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, with 23 per cent of the vote. The two were well ahead of the other potential candidates.
Former senator Rick Santorum, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination last year, came third with 8 per cent of a vote on 23 possible candidates in the poll of 2,930 conference attendees.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie followed closely with 7 per cent of the vote despite being snubbed by the conference’s organisers.
He was not invited to speak despite his popularity following his high-profile response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy last year.
Mr Paul, son of former Texas representative and one-time presidential aspirant Ron Paul, was a popular speaker at the conservative think-in after speaking for almost 13 hours in the US Senate earlier this month to try to block Mr Obama’s nomination of Mr Brennan as CIA director.
Mr Paul has a large following among a younger generation of libertarian-inclined conservatives. “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?” he said. “The new GOP – the GOP that will win again – will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal sphere.”