CPAC — What was once a closely-watched gauge of the conservative electorate, the CPAC straw poll, will again take its place among the major events of the political season, the organizer of the 2012 edition of the Conservative Political Action Conference told me Thursday.
That will be a big change from last year, when Ron Paul supporters showed up en masse and pushed out a win for their guy in the final day of CPAC 2011.
Al Cardenas, chair of the American Conservative Union which sponsors CPAC, told me at his Thursday morning press avail that there’s no sign of a Paul ticket buy-out in 2012 (Paul isn’t even here; he sent his son, Sen. Rand Paul [R-KY], to speak on his behalf while he campaigns in Maine). That was how Paul won in 2011: his supporters bought up 1,000 or so tickets and brought in Paulites just to cast their vote.
Cardenas said that he hasn’t seen signs that any other are trying to buy the vote either. CPAC organizers have also instituted new balloting procedures they say will boost turnout, which has generally been pretty low. This year, attendees can vote with their phones and iPads, instead of just through paper ballots.
“No one’s stacking the deck this year,” Cardenas said. “It’s a wide-open process. I don’t think any of [the candidates] want to be caught with a perception that they’re trying to stack the deck and then lose the straw ballot. … The outcome will be far less predictable.”
All that according to Cardenas adds up to results that, when they’re announced Saturday, will be a real barometer of which presidential candidate the thousands of attendees at CPAC like the most.
“This is the first time that you’re going to have the ultimate focus group of 10,000 people (or whatever it turns out to be) listening to four candidates over the same period of time, voting on who they like the best,” Cardenas told me at his morning press conference. “They’re going to be swayed by the passion of the orator. Whether they end up voting for the person they came in supporting or not, I think that’s one of the most interesting stories for you fellows to follow.”