OKLAHOMA CITY — Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson won the presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Saturday with 25.4% of the vote — a cherry on the sundae for the candidate, who also scored a last-minute time slot upgrade when he replaced Sen. Ted Cruz as the gala event’s headline speaker.
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Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon, announced his candidacy for president earlier this month, just two years after bursting onto the national stage with a National Prayer Breakfast speech where he insulted the president — who was just sitting two seats away. Carson’s win comes despite the fact that his address came late in the weekend’s events, indicating that many of his fans came prepared to vote for him.
The vast majority of voters at Saturday’s conference said their two top priorities in the upcoming election were the economy and national security, indicating that Carson’s appeal extends past the social issue waters he’s traditionally navigated. Just 14.4% of voters said social issues were a key priority for them.
Gov. Scott Walker came in second with 20.5% of the vote; his speech — the first big address of the event — was extremely well received, earning standing ovations and an extremely positive response.
Last year’s winner, Cruz, came in third with 16.6% of the vote after canceling his Friday night speech in order to stay in D.C. to vote on the Patriot Act, which perhaps pulled some votes from the conservative favorite. He sent a video and a surrogate, his father Rafael Cruz, to speak at the gala dinner instead.
Gov. Chris Christie — the surprise success of the event whose address focused heavily on the economy and national security — came in fourth with 5.3% of the vote.
According to organizers, 958 of the event’s more than 1000 attendees participated in the straw poll.