US conservative activists have picked Tea Party favorite US Senator Rand Paul as their choice to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee as they wrapped up a major strategy gathering outside Washington.
Paul, popular among the younger conservatives who thronged to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), on Saturday narrowly beat Senator Marco Rubio — also tipped to seek the White House — 25 percent to 23 percent in the CPAC Straw Poll.
The Kentucky lawmaker saw his profile raised after mounting a 13-hour, non-stop filibuster in the Senate earlier this month to block John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA.
He used the blocking tactic to press for answers from US President Barack Obama’s administration on the scope of its drone policy.
Former senator Rick Santorum, a presidential hopeful last year, received 8 percent of the vote, closely followed by rising Republican star Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey with 7 percent and US Representative Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate to try to oust Obama from the White House, with 6 percent.
About 2,930 CPAC members participated in the straw poll.
“We convened thousands of energized conservatives today at this 40th annual national CPAC 2013 from across the entire country,” said Al Cardenas, chairman of The American Conservative Union. “It’s been a longstanding and fun tradition at CPAC national as well as our regional CPACs to poll the attendees and get their opinion on a number of important issues.”
Former US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin took center stage on Saturday, needling Obama and even fellow Republicans.
“We don’t have leadership coming out of Washington, we have reality television, except it’s really bad reality TV and the American people tuned out a long time ago,” Palin told the conference.
Palin, a former Alaska governor who was John McCain’s running mate in 2008, has since served as contributor for the Fox News channel and even starred in her own reality show in 2010.
“Mr President, we admit it, you won, accept it. Now step away from the teleprompter and do your job,” she said in a swipe at Obama. “Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama, you lie.”
Palin then caused the crowd to erupt in laughter and applause by taking large sips from a Big Gulp cup filled with soda in reference to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban such oversized sweet drinks.
His plan, opposed by conservatives in the name of individual liberties, was blocked by a New York judge this week.
However, the sharpest attacks by the self-styled “Mama grizzly” were aimed at the head of her party, accused of trying to marginalize ultra-conservative Tea Party candidates in primaries for the 2016 elections.
“The last thing we need is Washington, DC vetting our candidates,” she said, before lashing out at political consultants who advise on Republican Party strategy.
“Now is time to furlough the consultants,” she said. “These experts keep losing elections, and keep getting rehired and raking in millions.”