Ted Cruz Comes Out on Top in Values Voters Straw Poll

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By Alexandra Jaffe

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the presidential straw poll at the Values Voter Summit for the third year in a row on Saturday, cementing his position as the favorite of social conservatives in the Republican presidential field.

He drew 35 percent support among the nearly 1200 attendees that voted in the straw poll, while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson took second with 18 percent support and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in third with 14 percent support. The only other candidate in the field to draw more than 100 votes was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who placed fourth with 13 percent support.

Cruz considerably widened his lead over Carson this year, up from just 5 percent in the 2014 Summit straw poll — and Carson’s support declined slightly since then, down from 20 percent last year, even as his standing in national polling has grown.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during the Values Voter Summit on Sept. 25 in Washington, D.C.Jose Luis Magana / AP

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Carson won this year’s vice presidential straw poll with 25 percent support, while Fiorina came in second with 21 percent support.

As much as the straw poll handed a predictable win to Cruz, it offered a notable rebuke to two of the field’s top contenders: businessman Donald Trump and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Trump came in fifth place, drawing just 56 votes, or 5 percent support, even as polls have shown him to be the first or second pick of evangelical voters.

His middle-of-the-pack finish comes, however, as multiple national polls have found his support among GOP voters overall slipping over the past few weeks, suggesting his many recent controversies and squabbles with opponents may be taking a toll on the frontrunner.

And there was little love lost for Trump at the annual gathering of social conservatives when he spoke on Friday. Although the he made overtures to the largely evangelical audience by bringing his Bible to show off to the conservative crowd, he was booed when he called Rubio a "clown," and voters said in the hallways they weren’t interested in Trump.

A visibly irritated Trump insisted as he left the hotel that "those weren’t boos, they were cheers," but Summit attendees on Saturday cheered when a speaker made reference to “a boastful casino-owning bully” candidate for president.

But Bush’s finish at the bottom of the pack, ahead of only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, may be the most ominous finding of the poll. Bush has long faced skepticism from conservative voters due to his support for Common Core educational standards as governor and more moderate position on immigration, and his mere seven votes in the straw poll crystallized the challenge he still faces in gaining support within that voting bloc.

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Bush was one of a handful of candidates that didn’t speak at the gathering, and all those that opted out — including rising star Carly Fiorina and libertarian favorite Rand Paul — polled with 3 percent support or lower.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins criticized Bush in particular for deciding not to attend the event, and said Trump has a better chance at building his support among conservatives than Bush.

"It would help [Bush] if he would actually show up and talk to values voters," Perkins said during a press conference after the event.

"I believe there’s a relationship to be built with Trump. I’m concerned Jeb Bush is side-stepping some events."