Popular Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had 28 percent support. All other candidates drew minimal support
The poll was seen as the first primary match up between Trump and DeSantis, and was being closely watched in case there is any sign of an opening for someone not named Trump. McLaughlin announced that 2,574 attendees answered the poll questions.
This year’s CPAC attracted GOP heavyweights and potential presidential contenders like Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Josh Hawley of Missouri, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
When attendees were given a list of potential 2024 candidates that did not include Trump, DeSantis was the overwhelming favorite, with 61 percent support. Pompeo and Donald Trump Jr. tied for second with 6 percent support.
The straw poll was filled out electronically and anonymously by registered CPAC attendees, asking about approval for Trump, President Joe Biden, Republicans in Congress, as well as their nominee preference. CPAC attendees’ consensus on the greatest threat to America’s safety and national security? “Joe Biden’s incompetence,” at 62 percent, the poll found, followed by 35 percent of participants saying China.
While Trump remains the most popular person in the GOP, behind the scenes there were concerns about how much support DeSantis would receive in the poll — and questions about if a strong showing by the governor would signal to other 2024 hopefuls that there is an opening to primary Trump.
At the CPAC gathering one year ago, 55 percent of attendees supported Trump as the GOP presidential nominee and 21 percent supported DeSantis.
However, Trump’s support now was lower than at CPAC’s Dallas gathering in July, when 70 percent of conference-goers picked Trump as their favored nominee.
Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and president of 60 Plus, said, “The way you word a poll matters.”
“The other challenge is getting an honest response on an electronic poll that has you log in with your registration number and last name,” he said. “Anecdotal conversations seem to indicate a strong desire for new candidates while respecting and appreciating Trump’s accomplishments and service.”
Trump spoke to a standing room-only crowd at CPAC on Saturday night. The theme of the conference was “Awake Not Woke,” and mainly focused on culture war issues.
But while Trump was the overwhelming favorite among attendees at this year’s CPAC, some aren’t quite sure the former president — or even DeSantis — should run.
“I would love it if it was Trump. My concern is if he would be so polarizing,” said Christina Kastan from Orlando, citing his brash language and personality. “I don’t want DeSantis to run because he is our governor and we could lose our state to the blue.”
In her decades as an eligible voter, Mary Donovan didn’t register to vote until 2016 — when she cast her first ballot. Trump, she said, was the candidate who inspired her to vote.
“He’s the only president I’ve ever felt cares for our country,” Donovan, of Clearwater Beach, Fla., said at CPAC on Sunday prior to the straw poll announcement.
If Trump decides not to run — and Donovan isn’t convinced he will — her governor, DeSantis, would easily be her next pick, she said.
Steven Abood of Miami was among the CPAC-goers wearing “Trump 2024” paraphernalia this weekend.
“He actually looks strangely, like, almost younger than he did when he was president,” Abood said.