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Libertarians Organize Ahead of November

Members of the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts met in Westborough over the weekend to mobilize ahead of the presidential election. The Party of Principle, a moniker they’ve adopted in this tumultuous election cycle, saw one of its largest Massachusetts based conventions in years, with activists flocking to hear from big players in Libertarian circles and set goals for the future.

United behind what’s considered to be the most high profile ticket the Libertarians have fielded in their 44 year existence, spirits were high and optimistic, and for good reason. According to a September poll from WBUR, Gary Johnson, the former two term governor of New Mexico, currently hovers around 9% of the vote in Massachusetts. If Johnson’s numbers remain consistent into November, he will guarantee the party major party status for the next two years- something that the Massachusetts affiliate hasn’t had since 2010.

Furthermore, Massachusetts Libertarians announced they intend to field a complete slate for 2018, including a gubernatorial candidate. Speaking to the impassioned crowd, Daniel Fishman, the party’s political facilitator and the Northeastern regional director for the Johnson-Weld campaign, made it abundantly clear that this opportunity is a prime turning point for the small party. “We have a legitimate chance to win second place”, he told convention goers, “The [MassGOP] is fractured […] It’s no longer a party at all.”

David Blau, party treasurer and another long-time activist, echo’d Fishman’s enthusiasm for the future. “I’m very excited for the campaign. I’m very excited for after too. Win or lose, the campaign is over on the 8th and the party will carry on [come] the 9th.” Asked if he thought Johnson’s momentum and polling would give him the chance of making it into one of the two remaining debates, Blau remained skeptical. “The [CPD] is beholden to the two major parties.”, Blau said, “They have no self interest.”

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“I’ve campaigned in gays bar and College Republican clubs” – Thomas Simmons

Thomas Simmons, the party’s sole candidate for Congress, was another figure who saw a hopeful future on the horizon. Simmons, who serves as the chair of the Business Department at Greenfield Community College, is arguably one of the best chances the Libertarians have at securing a seat in Congress. With no Republican challenger, an incumbent Democrat that Simmons described as “no where to be found”, and an endorsement from Bill Weld, Massachusetts’ former state governor, Simmons has taken advantage of an unusual opportunity.

“I’ve campaigned in gay bars and College Republican clubs”, Simmons quipped, noting that his major strategy is to hold the Republican base and siphon dissatisfied Berniecrat voters from the Democratic base. Simmons also spoke of how important it has been to know your audience and add a personal touch. “I drove to every town in my district to personally drop off petitions”, he recounted. “Some of these people have never seen a [candidate] running for Congress.”

Simmons wasn’t alone in coming out to Westborough either. After speaking to the room, he led a panel of candidates from the surrounding New England area in a round table format.

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“The average American knows something is wrong. They’re waking up faster and faster” – Adam Kokesh

Throughout the day, attendees were entertained by a variety of dynamic public speakers. From medical marijuana to mass incarceration reform, representatives presented the hungry convention with food-for-thought. One of the more anticipated speakers was American talk show host and agorist Adam Kokesh. Kokesh, who has identified as an anarchist and voluntaryist, explained that the average American “knows something is wrong” and is “waking up faster and faster”. Seeing this growth to be inevitable, he asked convention goers to look at what worked with them and how important it is they hone their message. In his closing remarks, Kokesh also discussed his 2020 run for the Libertarian Party nomination, where he said he would focus on a platform calling for the orderly dissolution of the federal government.

Larry Sharpe, a New York based consultant who ran just points behind Bill Weld in the race for the vice presidential nomination, was also a widely anticipated guest, and spoke at great length during the convention. Sharpe ran breakout panels concurrent to the regular to-dos of the convention agenda, showcasing various tactics and approaches to becoming a more effective campaign manager. Challenging individuals to look at the big picture and come up with new ideas of campaigning, Sharpe bounced ideas off of the audience and helped educate them on how to develop campaign strategies of their own. Towards the end of one of his sessions, Sharpe also dropped a bomb that he was considering a run for the governor of New York in 2018.

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“We have to watch out for the misuse of the language of liberty” – Arvin Vorha

Joining Sharpe in conducting hands-on panels was the Libertarian National Committee vice chairman, Arvin Vorha. Whereas Sharpe focused on knowing how to dole out responsibilities and organize campaigns, Vorha held his popular “Who’s Driving” activist workshop, and set his sights on educating participants on how to handle media, taking control of the campaign, and becoming aware of the “misuse of the language of liberty” and the corruption of the Libertarian message.

As exciting as the day was, not all activists were united in how they should move forward with their message. Early in the morning, convention goers voted on implementing new platform planks, such as a call to remove all ethnic and racial qualifiers on census forms to combat racism, but spirited discussion allowed only one plank to be passed before the convention forced the procedural vote to be continued later in the afternoon.

Meeting in a room separate from the main convention hall, a small split delegation approved the additions of another two planks: a commitment to fighting the militarization of the police, as well as the opposition to current payroll system and the immediate pardoning of all tax violators. However, following a heated debate that divided the room in two, planks to call for the United States to leave the United Nations or to oppose mandatory vaccinations both failed. With other motions to still be discussed, but up against the clock, a vote was called to adjourn and return to the festivities- a very tense decision that once again split the rump meeting down the middle.

The Libertarians weren’t the only ones to be meeting in the DoubleTree Convention Hall that afternoon. The American Federation of Teachers, a powerful teacher’s union with ties to the establishment of No Child Left Behind, were hosting a leadership conference just down the hall. Supporters of the educator’s union and the small government loving party interacted relatively little, with AFT participants saying they found the situation to be just as amusing, but that both sides mostly kept to themselves. “It’s been friendly. There hasn’t been any attempts at recruiting from any side”, said a participant who wished to keep their name anonymous.

Even in the face of classic ideological squabbles and unusual party guests across the hall, the convention was seen as a success. Former party chair and gubernatorial candidate Dean Cook, who was in attendance, was very satisfied with the events of the day. “The convention was run a lot better than the one that I ran”, Cook mused. When pressed if a energized convention and convenient running conditions were enough to put the Massachusetts party on the map, Cook doubled down on the importance of voting your conscience, even if you don’t always win. “The sales and income tax vote failed [in Massachusetts],”, but it almost passed. It still forced the vote in the legislature to be  vetoed. You can win with winning.”

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You have to assign responsibilities, and if that person doesn’t show up, what do you do? You keep going. You reassign them.” – Larry Sharpe

Even after a full day, there were still opportunities for party activists to network and engage one another. For those who paid more into the Libertarian Party’s coffers, an intimate dinner session was had with technology and business investor, Bruce Fenton. Fenton, founder of the Bitcoin Association, spoke at length about blockchain, which he described as the “ultimate voluntaryist  transaction, completely peer-to-peer, and free of a third party”. He was joined again by Sharpe, who gave one more compelling speech to support local Libertarian Party establishments and candidates.

Cris Crawford, the newly elected chairwoman, closed the festivities of the night with a huge thanks to early donors. “[You] were the pebble that started the avalanche”, Crawford said, adding that their efforts led to more effective ballot access efforts. Crawford also set fourth the manifesto of the party for the future, focusing on a policy of observation and understanding. “The best thing we can do right now is research and listen to the members [and] research what the public wants from us, [which] will help put libertarians in the best possible light.”

The Libertarian Party was founded in Colorado in 1971, and is dedicated to “Minimum Government and Maximum Freedom”. More information can be found out about the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts at lpmass.org.

 

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Libertarians Meet in Worcester for First Presidential Debate

As the first snow of the season graced the city of Worcester, so did the rank and file of the Libertarian Party faithful, meeting in the back of MacDonald’s Tavern. With around 30 participants packed into the bar, almost double the amount of 2014 attendants, the Massachusetts Libertarian Party conducted its annual state convention. Turnout was impressive considering they were competing for audience attendance with the Students For Liberty, a popular and like-minded pro-liberty youth movement holding a conference of its own in Boston.

Participants ranged from those who believed in the idealistic party to the people hoping to earn their vote come next May. Mixed in there was even a candidate for U.S. Senate out of California, who flew over to film the event and start what he called a Libertarian Party business network to compete with the likes of CNN and Fox News.

Massachusetts Libertarians listen to speakers
Massachusetts Libertarians listen to speakers

As dozens of party members made themselves comfortable, Massachusetts State Committee members recapped the hard work the party leadership has been doing to stay afloat, and what goals the party will have going into the future. They pledged money, support, and vision to turn the devout force into something capable of being a contender in the world of Bay State politics. From marijuana to membership, each member laid out their goals for the future if given the chance to retain their leadership roles.

Forgoing the classic ranked choice voting system that has long separated the Libertarian Party from its first-past-the-post major party peers, Massachusetts libertarians opted to go for a slate election to save on time. While this was a decision that left some uneasy for its appearance of steamrolling over discussion and its lack of the libertarian staple candidate “None Of The Above” option, including Darryl W. Perry, the motion was easily passed, forgoing what would have been a mere formality, and committee members, as well as Orlando national delegates, were voted in with one big swoop.

The Libertarian Party is famous for its ideologues and that sentiment was alive and well in the candidates who came forward seeking support. From the pragmatic to the downright anarchic, the third largest political party in the United States did not fail to provide a candidate for all strains of libertarianism.

George Phillies, chairman of the Massachusetts Libertarian Party, moderated the debate and gave the four presidential hopefuls an assortment of questions covering a broad scope of topics, ranging from domestic policy to the size of the military to the candidate’s own ability to run a functional campaign.

From left to right. George Phillies, Steve Kerbel, Darryl Perry, Dr. Marc Feldman, and Derrick Michael Reid
From left to right. George Phillies, Steve Kerbel, Darryl Perry, Dr. Marc Feldman, and Derrick Michael Reid

While the four presidential hopefuls overlapped on a number of issues, differing only in execution, there were still a few key differences that they hoped would separate them from the rest of the pack. Whereas Derrick Michael Reid, Darryl Perry, and Steve Kerbel generally agreed upon phasing out the role of social security in a libertarian society and the need for private accounts, Feldman bucked from the herd and preached about the benefits of using social security funds to refinance student loans, seeing it as intelligent business policy.

The same could be said for Darryl Perry and how he viewed the size of the United States military. Where candidates like Steve Kerbel called for a “descending crescendo” on the size of American armed force, Derrick Michael Reid wanted to just curb irresponsible American foreign policy, and Marc Feldman wanted to give the individual the chance to voluntarily fund the military through fees. Perry, on the other hand, openly called for a complete abolishment. “There should be no standing army”, Perry told listeners. “The question is how quickly can we get there?”

Taking time after the debate to ask the candidates further questions, I sat down with Derrick Michael Reid, who could be described as outside of the usual minimal government ideology to which his Libertarian contemporaries prescribe. Citing the significance of moral, societal, and economic codes, Reid discussed his concerns with the raw anarchy that might arise from having absolutely no government standards. “I’m not a total libertarian” he told me. “You need certain controls to prevent anarchy.” Among those he listed criminal justice, civil corps, legal bodies, taboos, and a moral code as such examples.

Unlike his fellow candidates, Reid spoke of implementing a smorgasbord of political thought in his administration. “I’d have a mix of Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians. […] It would be representative of all political parties.” While he acknowledged that such a position may not necessarily be the most popular one to take, he reassured me that he knew what it would take to win and made no qualms in telling me. “I’m the only candidate who can appeal to the intellect and logic of all Americans. I plan to win the Whitehouse.” He said. “And big.”

Darryl Perry speaks before the audience
Darryl Perry speaks before the audience

Starkly contrasting him is Darryl W. Perry, who strongly embodies his home state of New Hampshire “Live Free or Die” spirit. Perry, clearly no stranger to speaking his mind, separated himself from the pack early on in the debate by going on record and saying that he supports “gun control”, and by that he jokingly meant controlling one’s firearm, and advocating for the legalization of everything, even going as far as listing crystal meth. In fact, he said he’d be most comfortable if all things were “regulated like tomatoes”, something he had told the audience earlier is surprisingly regulation free.

Perry had also made rounds earlier in his campaign when he went on record and said he would not file with the FEC or take American currency, something he continues to stand by to this day. “In his 1996 run, Ralph Nader also didn’t file with the FEC” he explained. As for funding, Perry told me he would only take “precious metals and bitcoin.” When pressed about Super PAC funding, Perry told me he would only take services. “If a Super PAC wanted to donate airline miles or tickets, I would use that but I will not take money or checks and I have turned down cash before.”

Steve Kerbel was a candidate who could be described as from the pragmatic wing of the party. “We need every voter to know that they are libertarian”, he opined to the crowd. “We need to speak in bumper stickers”. In true Libertarian fashion, Kerbel railed against government interference in the 2nd amendment, the 4th amendment, the job market, and abortion, staying true to his message of efficiently shrinking the size and scope of the government.

Kerbel stayed true to his sentiments even when pressed about racial tensions and the rise of the #blacklivesmatter movement in the United States. “I’m off the grid when it comes to Black Lives Matter.” he told me. “But we need to level the playing field [and] Individual liberty is my statement. Period.” Kerbel did attack private prisons however, and called them out for their failure to save money and their tendency to imprison even more people.

The last candidate who participated, Dr. Marc Feldman, harped on the significance of his campaign being a corruption free campaign, reminding the audience that his campaign is called “Votes Not for Sale” and not “Marc Feldman for President”. Feldman also made known his lack of executive experience, but discussed it as a strength, especially in a political climate where the likes of Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Carly Fiorina are making huge waves.

Feldman also went on record and took positions slightly outside of traditional libertarian dogma, but tried to tie them into classic libertarian ideology. “I’m a supporter of Israel and the Israeli Defense Force” he said to a surprised audience. “But I would cut all foreign aid and would help them privately. In fact, Feldman styled himself a “libertarian populist” and explained that he supports an individual’s right to choose, even if that right is to support a government funded program that he may not necessarily agree with himself.

Absent from the debate was 2012 presidential candidate Gary John (photo courtesy of wikipedia)
Absent from the debate but constantly talked about was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s 2012 standard bearer who netted over one million votes (photo courtesy of wikipedia)

No candidate drew more ire than one who wasn’t even in attendance. The 2012 presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, was a popular punching bag, getting called out by Perry for his outstanding 1.3 million dollar campaign debt and by Feldman for his inability to make the effort to participate in the campaign process. There’s some discussion as to whether Johnson is in fact a formal candidate or not, but as of an April interview with the Daily Caller, he had said he was gearing up for a run.

One topic not so wildly discussed during the debate was the fate of Rand Paul’s stalwart supporters in the Republican Party. While the Kentucky Senator continues to place in the GOP’s top ten, his waning support has drawn the ire of his Republican contemporaries to call for his dropping out. When asked about whether or not Paul supporters would be a low hanging fruit, the general consensus is no. “I’m looking for new voters. Those in the Republican Party are too hard to get out.” Marc Feldman told me. “I would be surprised if “Rand Paul the Republican” voters would even vote for Rand Paul the Libertarian”.

“There’s a reason they’re supporting Republicans” Perry agreed, before pointing to number of votes the Constitution Party’s 2008 nominee Chuck Baldwin and Gary Johnson, the two candidates who were most expected to profit from the elder Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 runs, ultimately achieved.

Nicholas Sarwark address the crowd
Nicholas Sarwark address the crowd

Nicholas Sarwark, the chairman of the National Libertarian Party, also attended the party convention as the keynote speaker. Sarwark gave an impassioned speech about standing with the party and how the national party seeks to run over 1,000 candidates in 2016. More importantly, he harped on the significance of working together and how the path to success for the Libertarian Party is to learn how to agree to not agree on every little thing and accept new members as they come. A shout of “statist!” was heard when he discussed a potential voter with a fondness of public schooling, as if to underscore his message. “It’s a wonderful word that means nothing to anyone outside of this group, and it’s mean!” he said, over applause.

The overall mood of the convention debate was that every candidate held their own, but some definitely won their New England peers over better than others. “Feldman did well- all of them did well” said Michael Coombes, a faithful member of the Libertarian Party told me. “But right now I would vote for Kerbel.”

Guests overall had a pleasant experience
Guests overall had a pleasant experience

Echoing him was Don Graham, a state committee member and delegate to the national convention. “The winner was Kerbel”, Don said, “but the party consists of reformers, minarchists, anarchists, and sometimes we walk over each other […] If we want to put a Libertarian Party president in office, we all need to work together.”

Sarwark himself was even very satisfied with the debate of the day, and content with the choices his party will have going into election season. “I think our candidates well represent everyone. I appreciate everyone who comes out to do this.” he told me. “The Libertarian nomination process is still one where the candidates have to work for delegates. It’s still very much a retail process.”

The Libertarian Party was founded in Colorado in 1971, and is dedicated to “Minimum Government and Maximum Freedom.” The 2016 Libertarian Party National Presidential Nominating Convention will be held at the Rosen Centre Hotel & Resort in Orlando Florida from May 27th to May 30th.

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CPAC 2015 – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch But There Is Free Swag

National Harbor, MD — As this past weekend drew to a close, so did CPAC, the largest gathering of conservative activists in the nation, but between the booing of Jeb Bush, panelists faking heart attacks on stage, and a man dressed from the 18th century, the conference is far from ordinary. And there was free stuff. Oh, was there free stuff.

Participants vote in the famous CPAC straw poll.
Participants vote in the famous CPAC straw poll.

CPAC, more formally known as The Conservative Political Action Conference, is the annual conference offering conservative candidates, supporters, and activists an opportunity to come together to network and prepare for future election cycles. With over 10,000 participants, this American Conservative Union sponsored event draws activists from all stripes and colors. Yet the most significant aspect of CPAC is perhaps not its networking capabilities, but its famous presidential preference straw poll, acting as one of the earliest events to usher in the election season.

Expect the day to be dominated by free speech and free gifts. Speeches are a vital cornerstone of the CPAC experience, starting early in the morning and continuing into the evening. Conservative, and sometimes not so conservative, icons make up the schedule, with some speaking alone and others as part of a larger panel. Popular topics of the conference included the dangers of common core, promoting a strong military presence, ending the IRS, and stopping “Obamacare”, though many disagreed on a number of issues. Speakers raging from England’s United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage to Hewitt Packard CEO Carly Fiorina take the stage, offering attendees an opportunity to hear from people they would otherwise never have the chance.

Donald Trump addresses CPAC.
Donald Trump addresses CPAC.

But if the large halls aren’t your scene, off to the side are smaller, more intimate rooms, giving attendees an opportunity to hear other speakers discuss specific issues and pet projects. Panelists range from former New Mexico Governor and 2012 Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson to former Speaker and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, and unlike some of those in the main hall, discussion can get even fierier, depending on who’s getting to ask the questions.

Downstairs is “The Hub”, the name given to the loft like room directly beneath the speaking halls. The Hub serves as a “farmer’s market” of conservative political ideology, with booths advocating for a plethora of hot button issues and an almost endless supply of free swag.  Issues are as diverse and varied as the crowd in attendance, and as it often goes with such diversity, booths tend to overlap in message as they try to redefine conservatism.

One such group was the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, or informally the TFP. A representative of the TFP explained that they are a lay Catholic men’s organization who have been sponsors of CPAC for “over 20 years”, and are seeking to defend traditional marriage, private property and enterprise, and Christ’s honor. Taking a moment from gathering signatures for a worldwide petition to encourage Pope Francis to take more conservative positions in the Catholic Church, he explained that even in the ever-increasing social libertarian CPAC crowd “it has been a good turnout [and] we’ve had a pretty supportive crowd.”

Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum talks to supporters in The Hub.
Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) talks to supporters in The Hub.

The Our America Initiative, an organization started by fmr. Governor Gary Johnson, was another group in attendance, and would be one seen as contrary to the TFP. While many preach for general conservative issues, or the restoration of the Republican Party, Our America’s booth is filled with Libertarian Party paraphernalia, bumper stickers, and quite a few pictures of Johnson’s face. Speaking with members of the booth, they expressed a skepticism of the de facto liberty movement head, Rand Paul, the importance of libertarianizing social issues, as well as the necessity of ballot access reform.

You might think you’ve seen it all, but the party doesn’t stop when the speakers leave for the day. Outside of the Gaylord Convention Center, attendees young and old flock to the many bars, clubs, and restaurants to mingle. CPAC has become progressively younger throughout the years, so the club scene has become increasingly more popular, with attendees in jackets thrown over club attire being something appearing on the internet’s comical “CPAC bingo sheets” in the past.

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property is one of many groups that have booths in The Hub.
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property is one of many groups that have booths in The Hub.

But conservative activists aren’t the only ones showing up at night anymore. Sometimes so do the candidates, as was seen with Kentucky Senator, and possible presidential hopeful, Rand Paul, who came out to conduct an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity at a bar down the street from the convention center. Hannity, picking up on the scene, even jokingly said that he would open a tab and “fireballs were on him.”

As it goes, with such a large and diverse breed of activists now attending CPAC, emotions can run high. Most of the time, such instances are minor and just the occasional firebrand in the panel audience or the main hallway, but sometimes they get noticed, such as when Rand Paul’s supporters conducted a mass walk out on Jeb Bush during his speech. For the most part, things remain relatively calm and activists instead fight it out with who has the most colorful team pride. Sometimes, supporters give the word “colorful” a whole new meaning.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) takes questions from Sean Hannity at Bobby McKey's Dueling Piano Bar.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) takes questions from Sean Hannity at Bobby McKey’s Dueling Piano Bar.

Abigail, a bubbly young girl with bright purple tips in her hair, represents some of the diversity that can be seen in attendance at CPAC. “Rand is the reason I’m here”, she said, proudly sporting the equally bright “Stand With Rand” shirt associated with his supporters. “He’s my choice candidate because he’s a real supporter of the Constitution. No other candidate seems that genuine.”

In contrast to Abigail, Ryan, a young man with a large sticker on his jacket reading “Jeb! 2016” sees things a little differently. When asked why he thinks Jeb is a decent candidate, Ryan actually referenced his positions, something putting him at odds with a lot of his peers, saying “It’s admirable that he has differing position and is not following talking points. He has flexibility [and] an independent streak.”

When asked about comparing him to his brother, Ryan was quick to dismiss any concerns. “He’s more conservative than [his brother]”, adding “look at his record as Governor of Florida”.

Newt Gingrich speaks in one of the smaller Potomac rooms.
Newt Gingrich speaks in one of the smaller Potomac rooms.

As for why others continue to attack Jeb Bush, Ryan expressed little concern. “There’s a candidate overload right now, and Jeb is the frontrunner, so it’s expected that he will be a target of everyone”, he explained.
Ben, a journalism student attending a Newt Gingrich panel, was another interesting stripe of activist in attendance. When asked which candidates he supported, Ben said he was a fan of both Rand Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the latter being someone who has been heavily criticized for his stances in the party. When asked how he could be a fan of both candidates, he cited Paul’s sensitivities to the people of Westchester County, Yonkers, the Bronx, and other such locations.

“I’m Jewish and where I’m from there’s a lot of racial profiling”, Ben said. [Paul] is in touch with reality, [and] goes where poor people are and where they need to be helped.”

Regarding Christie, Ben explained “I support Christie on everything but cannabis. He’s on the same page [as Paul], but he’s a little too afraid to take on the establishment”

An enthusiastic supporter of straw poll victor Rand Paul holds a sign during his speech to CPAC.
An enthusiastic supporter of straw poll victor Rand Paul holds a sign during his speech to CPAC.

Ben also expressed favor towards individuals like Newt Gingrich, citing intelligence and respect as important qualifiers in a commander-in-chief.
Like all things though, CPAC had to come to an end, with Rand Paul winning the straw poll for the third year in a row, though with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker surging to a strong second. Conservatives left the conference feeling invigorated to stake their claims in the 2016 cycle. If there’s one thing that could be taken from the conference however, is that there remains an ideological battle for the soul of the conservative movement, and with the ever-changing demographics of the conservative movement in America, one that could possibly last for years to come.