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Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll; Rubio close second

CPAC stands with Rand.

“Torch of liberty” scion Rand Paul was the choice of the plurality of conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference, as Paul won the much-hyped straw poll with 25 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was a close second with 23 percent.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Kentucky senator won the straw poll. This was not a weekend of self-reflection for conservatives. It was one of standing by principles, and no one more represents standing by principles than Paul.

Paul last week further endeared himself to conservatives by going through with a 13-hour filibuster – a modern-day record – of President Barack Obama’s nomination to be chief of central intelligence. That effort by the Tea Party favorite prompted Twitter hash tags, signs at CPAC, and even fundraising emails from the National Republican Senatorial Committee by the name of Stand With Rand. 

Additionally, with 23 people on the CPAC straw-poll ballot, Paul benefitted from the deepest support for a single candidate because of young Libertarians, many of whom make up CPAC's audience. In fact, a majority -- 52 percent -- of voters were between the ages of 18 to 25, according to Republican Tony Fabrizio, who analyzed the results for CPAC and made the official announcement Saturday.

Sen. Rand Paul delivers remarks at CPAC that are centered around the ongoing budget battles in Washington.

CPAC has always attracted college-age activists, but this is an even higher number than in past years, according to Fabrizio.

Paul supporters have demonstrated strong organizational skills around straw polls over the last several years, as they helped Paul’s father, ex-Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, win the 2010 and 2011 CPAC straw polls.

Rick Santorum finished a distant third with 8 percent. Popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was not invited to CPAC, finished fourth with 7 percent; Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice-presidential candidate was next at 6 percent; then Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker 5 percent; neurosurgeon Ben Carson and keynoter Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tied at 4 percent; followed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin percent.

Related: More CPAC coverage from NBC News

Forty-four others, including write-in votes for Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Allen West, got 14 percent. 

Before anyone makes too much of the results, remember that the last person to win the straw poll three years before an open presidential election (no incumbent) was Rudy Giuliani in 2005. While Giuliani led in many national polls, he only won 1 delegate in the Republican presidential primaries in 2008. And in 2006, the winner was George Allen, the former Virginia governor, who had his 2006 Senate race sunk by his YouTube utterance of "macaca," a term he used to describe a Democratic video tracker.

Voting took place throughout the weekend, but voting closed at 1 p.m. ET Saturday. CPAC organizers said privately they expected up to 8,000 and 10,000 activists at this year's conference -- 2,930 voted.

The ballroom at the event holds 3,500 seats, and up to 4,000 people when standing room is included. All voting took place electronically, either through kiosks at the site in National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., through an app, or online.

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