Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul edged out Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll Saturday, giving a boost to his nascent 2016 White House aspirations with a strong showing among the party faithful.
Propelled by his lengthy filibuster of President Obama's nominee for CIA director, Paul was the preferred choice for conservatives looking for a fiery alternative to establishment GOP figures.
Paul won 25 percent of the vote, followed by Rubio with 23 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who placed a distant third with 8 percent of the vote. Rounding out the top five were New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 7 percent of the vote and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., garnering 6 percent.
Younger activists in particular flocked to National Harbor for the nation's largest annual gathering for conservatives, giving the Libertarian-leaning Paul an edge over some of his colleagues. Donning "Stand with Rand" gear, Paul's supporters were easily the most organized in a year when potential presidential candidates weren't actively fighting for the poll victory.
More than half of all people who voted in the poll were between ages 18-25, according to CPAC organizers.
Three and a half years away from the presidential election, the annual contest didn't have as much importance as in years past. And winning the straw poll is hardly a barometer for future presidential success.
For example, Paul's father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, won the straw poll twice. And some of the names on the ballot, such as Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, weren't even invited to the conservative gathering this year. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asked to not be included on the ballot.
There were 23 names on the CPAC ballot this year, roughly half of which spoke at the event. There were nearly 500 fewer voters this year than in 2012 -- about 2,900 in total -- when Mitt Romney won the straw poll.
Paul and Rubio provided an early glimpse of the 2016 race, speaking back to back on the opening day of the conservative summit. Rubio received a tepid response while Paul was generally given rave reviews by conference-goers.
Rounding out the poll's top 10 were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Carson gained a devoted conservative following when he challenged Obama on taxes and health care at the recent National Prayer Breakfast -- while sharing the stage with the commander in chief.