Straw poll: Rand Paul tops among Mich. GOP activists

Chad Livengood, and Melissa Nann Burke

Mackinac Island — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the presidential straw poll at this weekend’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, capturing 22 percent of the vote among a field of 16 candidates.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina came in second with 15 percent, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in third place with 13.8 percent and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in fourth with 13 percent in The Detroit News/MIRS presidential straw poll among the party activists.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush finished fifth in the straw poll with 9.7 percent of the 785 registered conference attendees who voted.

The Paul campaign celebrated the straw poll victory as a sign that the libertarian-minded senator’s presidential bid remains alive, despite registering single-digit numbers in national polls.

“This is an organization test that indicates that (Paul) will over-perform in other organizational contests such as Iowa, Nevada, Minnesota and other caucus states that come before the March 8 Michigan primary,” said John Yob, Paul’s national political director and a Grand Rapids-based GOP consultant.

The candidate said winning the straw poll — which he did in a similar vote on the island in 2013 — was an honor, “as it is voted on by the most influential Michigan GOP members, grassroots leaders and party activists from throughout the country...”

The top five presidential candidates in the straw poll each barnstormed Mackinac Island Friday and Saturday, engaging in retail politicking among 2,200 Michigan Republicans attending the state party’s 31st biennial leadership conference. The top two vote-getters, Paul and Fiorina, were the last candidates to speak Saturday night at the Grand Hotel.

Steve Mitchell, an East Lansing-based pollster, said the results were probably highly influenced by the Paul campaign bringing supporters to the island.

“It’s really an effective strategy, and the campaign chooses to make that investment,” Mitchell said. “They also have supporters who are really true believers in their cause — people who will come up to the island. They have a record of always turning out the vote in a straw poll.”

Fiorina is likely still benefiting from her recent debate performance Wednesday night at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, Mitchell said.

“She is clearly a rising star, and she is the only ‘she’ in the race, so that’s going to help attract some women,” Mitchell said. “She’s a new face.”

Wendy Day, state director for Cruz’s campaign, downplayed the results late Saturday night, noting her candidate attracted an estimated 400 people to a Saturday morning rally at Mackinac Island’s public school.

“Straw polls are not always indicative of the actual ground game and the mood on the island,” Day said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and billionaire Donald Trump, who skipped the conference, trailed behind Bush with 8.4 percent and and 6.8 percent, respectively. Neurosurgeon and Detroit native Dr. Ben Carson, who also skipped the conference, finished eighth at 5.5 percent.

GOP leaders, activists and donors attending the two-day convention favored Fiorina for vice president with 30.5 percent of the vote. Rubio finished second in the hypothetical, vice-presidential voting with 17 percent, followed by Kasich with 9.7 percent.

Michigan Information & Research Service and The Detroit News started conducting the straw poll Friday and ended the survey of conference attendees at 10 p.m. Saturday, after Paul delivered the final keynote address of the weekend.

“More than anyone, I think he represents values like liberty, the Constitution and economic freedom,” said Curran Hennessey of Grand Rapids. “He is in the best position to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016.”

Although the Bush campaign sought straw poll votes, Michigan Chairman Bill Schuette, the state’s attorney general, said Thursday the campaign was not “actively campaigning for votes in the straw poll.”

Natalie Griffin, a junior at Western Michigan University, said she was voting for Kasich because his views on the issues most closely align with hers, especially prioritizing mental health treatment and prison reform.

“Even on things that I don’t necessarily agree with him on, he’s still a moderate and not an extremist,” said Griffin, who is studying to become a nurse.

Before filling out her ballot, Kristin Holcomb, of Chelsea, was wavering between Bush, Kasich and Fiorina.

“I’m still waiting for Mitt Romney to show up, honestly. But I think I’ll go with Bush because he’s my first ‘love,’” said Holcomb, who lives half of the year in Florida.

“But I could be swayed because I like the other two very much.”

Marylouise Fischbach, of Grass Lake, was leaning toward both Fiorina and Kasich — “more so Kasich at this point,” she said.

“He’s very smart and smart fiscally. He balanced the budget, and we need that,” Fischbach said. “I don’t hold it against him that he went to Ohio State.”

Mike Krafchak, of Milford, said he was voting for Trump, having been a fan since reading his book, “The Art of the Deal” when it was published in 1987.

“I’m a businessman, and I know what businessmen can do. I’m looking for something new,” Krafchak said, adding he’s frustrated and disenchanted with the governing elite in Washington, D.C.

“He’s been able to prove he can get things done, over and over and over. I’m very disappointed he’s not here. I would have gone to Traverse City to pick him up.”

Jared Maynard, a state GOP committee member from Macomb County, was volunteering for the campaign of Rubio, who did not attend the conference. Maynard said Rubio’s humble roots appeal to his own blue-collar upbringing in Macomb County.

“Marco Rubio is a young guy who’s ready to lead and bring actual leadership when you see him,” Maynard said.

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