The three-day Southern Republican Leadership Conference crowned the winner of their straw poll on Saturday, May 23, 2015 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on the last day of their conference. Beating out all the major frontrunners to win the poll was retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Carson’s victory comes at a time when straw polls are losing their importance among the frontrunner candidates, who see them as more of a risk than benefit to their status in the campaign.
At the event with over 1,000 attendees and 958 voters, 64 percent of the attendees, Carson won the poll with 25.4 percent of the vote. Coming in second was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with 20.5 percent, rounding out the top three was Texas Senator Ted Cruz with 16.4 percent of the vote. The remaining candidates barely garnered five percent support. In fourth place was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 5.3 percent, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was fifth with 5 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush only had 4.9 percent and a distant sixth place.
Conference chair Steve Fair issued a statement after the poll, “This was an energetic and inspiring conference. If the level of interest in this straw poll is any indicator, a Republican candidate will be well positioned to retake the White House in 2016.” The SRLC see view their straw poll as with preeminence and importance to the campaign.
The front running candidates Bush, Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, did not work and campaign at the conference to win the poll, although Walker and Bush delivered speeches at the event, and Rubio a video message with eight other GOP candidates. According to Politico, it is “insurgents” such as Carson and Cruz who benefit the most from the straw polls; these conservative darlings fare well among the those in attendance, but not necessarily nationally or among moderates or right leaning independents voters.
Still victories or strong showing help raise profiles, and with such a large GOP field anything helps. Prominent GOP candidates such as Bush and Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are sitting out the once preeminent Iowa Straw Poll as well, showing the waning influence of the once dominant straw polls, as they rarely indicate later success in the primaries.
Carson officially declared his candidacy on Monday, May 4, 2015. A recent Fox News poll had Carson tied Bush for the top spot both at 13 percent, the poll was released on May 14. Coming in third was Walker with percent while. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee placed fourth with 10 percent. The remaining 16 candidates had support in the single digits. Still despite a post declaration poll bump, Carson is considered a long shot for the nomination.
Although grassroots candidate Carson won the SRLC straw poll, it was the more established candidates that appealed to the voters, with both Cruz and Walker receiving a higher combined total. The poll however, proved that South GOP voters are not unified in their support of one particular candidate, including native sons Huckabee and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
South Carolina, the South’s first primary and the third in the contest is important seeking the nomination, other states Texas, Alabama and Virginia moved up their dates to March 1 for greater influence.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.