WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- For the second year in a row, Rand Paul came out on top of the straw poll at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
The Kentucky senator took 31 percent of the vote, far ahead of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who got 11 percent for a distant second place. Paul also rose 6 points, up from 25 percent of the straw poll last year.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson finished in third place with 9 percent, followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with 8 percent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum both took 7 percent of the poll.
But Paul, a libertarian darling, speaks to his friendliest audience at CPAC, which draws a younger segment of conservatives often at odds with the religious Republicans that occupy the far-right wing of the party.
The venue was similarly kind to his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who won the CPA straw poll twice but never managed to collect more than a handful of states in the Republican primaries.
This year's CPAC crowd proved to be more libertarian than usual, with 41 percent supporting full legalization of recreational marijuana (compared to 35 percent of Republicans polled by Gallup in October), while three of four CPAC attendees said they disapprove of the NSA's mass surveillance of citizens (compared to 56 percent of Republicans overall).