Dr. Ben Carson notched a pretty big feather in his cap on Saturday when the GOP Presidential hopeful was able to win the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City. The conference draws activists from across the South and is an important first stop in the primary season. In 2011, the eventual GOP candidate for President, Mitt Romney, narrowly won the straw poll by defeating Rep. Ron Paul by a single vote. While most of these straw polls are generally meaningless as a bellwether to eventual election victories (Iowa’s Straw Poll is one of the nation’s most famous and has only predicted the winner of Iowa’s Caucus twice in the last 35 years – in 1995 for Dole and in 1999 for G.W. Bush.), however these straw poll’s do allow the candidate to build up campaign momentum and media coverage.
Dr. Carson took first place with just over 25% of the vote. He was followed by Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) with 20%, Ted Cruz (R-TX) garnered 16%. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Rick Perry (R-TX) took 5% each and Jeb Bush (R-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bobby Jindal (R-LA), and Rand Paul (R-KY) each scored about4%.
There is a caveat to be made to all of this, as Carson also had the largest contingent at the event and his team seemed dead-set on winning the straw poll. Several of the other major candidates did not have much of a presence at the event, and Cruz and Rubio (who were each scheduled to speak) had to back out altogether after being forced to stay late in DC to vote on the USA Freedom Act.
So is this a Big Win for the Carson campaign? Probably not. But winning is almost always better than losing, no? Carson’s campaign fought hard for this victory and they got it – which is commendable. The problem is that Carson needs many more such victories before he will be mentioned in the top tier of candidates… or even the 2nd tier, really. While he is from outside the beltway (in political terms), and he is a good man of strong character (which should mean more than it does), he has also shown a penchant for making big unforced errors. And that is something a politician in a major race just cannot do…
Hopefully, this is a first step for him in public life and even if he doesn’t become President, he could be a wonderful spokesman for the Republican Party and conservative ideals.