Firebrand conservative Senator Ted Cruz won a straw poll of grassroots activists at the Republican Leadership Conference.
The Texas senator squeaked past neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 30-29% despite the fact that Cruz gave an impassioned address just as the voting began and Carson did not even attend.
But despite Carson’s absence, there was considerable interest in him as a potential candidate, with organizers of “Draft Carson” movement gathering signatures and hawking his books.
Carson has never held elective office, but has indicated that he might consider a presidential bid although he won't make a final decision until sometime next year.
As for Cruz, he received rockstar treatment at the semi-annual gathering of conservative Southern activists. In the morning, he headlined a prayer breakfast where he warned of the White House’s threats to religious freedom.
Moments later, Cruz delivered a fiery address to the convention’s delegates, in which he mocked Washington “graybeards” who want the party to water down its message. Cruz also said that the government shutdown late last year turned out to be a boon to Republicans, since it awakened Americans to the dangers of Obamacare.
The Republican establishment he said, was “reaping the fruits of the battle, which is perfectly fine,” since it will give the GOP a Senate majority next year.
“But we need to take a moment to acknowledge the lesson of the battle,” the senator added.
This comment was quickly mocked by Democrats.
“The GOP’s government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion and harmed middle class Americans,” said Democratic Party spokesman Michael Czin. “But to Ted Cruz, that’s not a mistake - it’s a model to follow moving forward. Just like with Benghazi, Republicans are singularly focused on pleasing their base at the expense of everyone else.”
Cruz also didn't go out of his way to make nice with establishment Republican. He again declined to make an endorsement in the heated Senate primary in neighboring Mississippi, but pointedly hinted that he favored Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party challenger to six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran.
“I have a great deal of faith in grassroots voters,” he said. “I think it is a very good thing when voters hold politicians accountable.”
At the RLC, Cruz did not hesitate to endorse a reporter for a conservative website who wore a t-shirt which read, “Less Government More Fun.”
“That is a slogan designed to go fight the fight,” he said.