Ben Carson, the famed surgeon turned presidential candidate, rode his outsider message to victory on Sunday at the Western Conservative Summit straw poll sponsored by the Washington Examiner, edging out former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Taken together, the results point to the resonance of the anti-Washington message among conservative audiences, as all three candidates argued in different ways that they would shake up the DC status quo.
Carson garnered 26 percent of the 871 votes cast; Fiorina got 23 percent; Walker was at 22 percent; and Ted Cruz, at 11 percent, was the only other candidate to make it into double-digits (he didn’t speak at the conference, though his father gave a rousing talk on his behalf).
The results were especially disappointing for Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who both spoke at the conference. The attendees were heavily socially conservative, generally Huckabee and Santorum’s core supporters. But Santorum was only at two percent of the vote and Huckabee got just one percent and actually earned fewer raw votes than Donald Trump, who was also at 2 percent.
Rick Perry, who also addressed the crowd on Saturday, also attained just 2 percent.
Though Jeb Bush didn’t speak at the conference, it was noteworthy that the man who is considered a frontrunner received just four votes (as in, four people, not four percent).
“I think its too early to get behind any one candidate but its not too early to rule out candidates who represent the same old same old in politics,” said one attendee who declined to provide her last name. “People who are big money who will impose their will on people. Jeb Bush needs to be rejected by the Republican party. Fool me once shame on you, fool me thrice, it’s all done. Each time Bush has been elected it’s thwarted everything we stand for as Republicans.”
Carson has consistently done well in front of conservative audiences and boasts an impressive grassroots network on social media. Saturday night, he roamed around the stage, speaking softly and conversationally about a variety of topics that all reinforced that he was coming from outside the typical political system.
“The professional politicians say you can’t do it because you’re not a politician,” he said. “I say I can do it because I’m not a politician.”
The crowd ate it up.
Those who remembered Fiorina’s failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign were skeptical when she announced she was running for president. But she’s continually impressed conservative audiences with her aggressive attacks on Hillary Clinton, polished delivery, and argument that her experience in private business would bring much needed change to the political system.
Walker has also done consistently well before conservative audiences when discussing his experience beating unions and other special interest groups to implement conservative reforms in Wisconsin.
“From what I’ve seen so far, Scott Walker is the only candidate with the skills to lead,” said Ladonna Lee, one attendee from Colorado. “In Wisconsin he helped the economy a lot, he helped workers. He’s the only one who really understands the Constitution.”
The poll also asked about Democratic candidates, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb was the top choice of the crowd.
Here are the full raw vote totals.
Rand Paul 34
Marco Rubio 24
Rick Perry 20
Rick Santorum 16
Donald Trump 15
Mike Huckabee 13
Bobby Jindal 9
Bill Armstrong 6 (President of Colorado Christian University)