In results that were stunning for several reasons, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was the runaway winner in a "straw poll" of Republican presidential favorites at Pennsylvania’s largest-ever gathering of conservatives, the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, on Friday and Saturday.
With the "straw ballots" counted and released on Saturday, Walker was an easy winner with 91 votes, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 58 votes. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was third with 56 votes.
Since the first PLC back in 1989, the group has become the most-attended and most-watched conclave of conservatives in the Keystone State. Fueled by the recent campaigns of conservative Sen. Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) and by the rise of the "tea party movement" over the past five years, the 2015 PLC attracted a record 700-plus participants to the Radisson Hotel in Harrisburg.
Walker’s showing among this group was particularly impressive in that many PLC participants freely acknowledged to Newsmax that they had never met the governor but admired him tremendously for successfully standing up to organized labor over reform of pensions and healthcare for public employees.
Recalling former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s defeat last fall at the hands of Democrat Tom Wolf, a Western Pennsylvania public relations woman and conservative activist told Newsmax: "Gov. Corbett missed his Scott Walker opportunity by never pursuing pension and healthcare reform the way they did in Wisconsin. That would have rallied the grass roots in Pennsylvania and possibly saved him."
Lowman Henry, president of the Pennsylvania Leadership Council, agreed. As he told Newsmax after the straw vote, "Gov. Walker has strong appeal to Pennsylvania conservatives, as we are engaged in the same battles against oppression by labor bosses as he faced in Wisconsin. He has proven his willingness to fight, has won major policy victories, and survived the wrath of the radical left. He is a proven leader, and that is winning him a lot of support here."
Also weighing in with praise for Walker was Scott Wagner, a conservative businessman from York and winner of a historic state Senate race as a write-in candidate last year.
Speaking to a packed PLC session Saturday morning, Wagner revealed that he had been at a meeting in Pittsburgh recently with Walker and 30 supporters of his as-yet-unannounced presidential bid.
Recalling how the topic came up that Republican legislators in Wisconsin were able to pass Walker’s reform as well as right-to-work legislation without any exceptions, Wagner drew cheers when he explained: "That’s because in Wisconsin, Republican legislators don’t take union money."
Completing the straw vote of first choices for president were Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (33 votes), physician Ben Carson (20), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (18), California businesswoman Carly Fiorna (seven), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (four), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (four), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (four), former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (one), and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (one).
The PLC straw poll comes as a recent Quinnipiac Poll among likely voters in the Republican primary next April 26 showed Walker topping the GOP field with 14 percent of the vote. Tied for second with 9 percent each were Bush, Carson, and Santorum. Cruz and Rubio were tied for third (7 percent each) in the poll, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Paul tied for fourth (6 percent each). Rounding out the poll were Christie (5 percent), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (2 percent), and Jindal (1 percent).
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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