Rand Paul wins CPAC presidential straw poll
OXON HILL, Maryland (AP) — High-profile Republicans launched a dual effort to attack Hilary Clinton as prospective Democratic presidential candidate and improve the party’s longstanding struggle with women voters at the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservative activists on Saturday.
It was the closing act of a Republican summit that highlighted acute challenges for a party that hasn’t won a presidential election in a decade.
The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, offered a message to all women, a group that has backed Democrats in every presidential election since 1988: “Women, don’t let them use you — unless you choose to be their political pawn, just their piece of accessory on their arm.”
The Republican firebrand was among just a handful of women featured on the main stage during the Conservative Political Action Conference, which offers an early audition for party officials weighing a 2016 presidential run and a platform for leading conservatives to put their stamp on the evolving Republican Party. Thousands of conservative activists, opinion leaders and Republican officials flocked to a hotel just across the Potomac River near Washington.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the conference’s presidential preference straw poll, a symbolic victory that reflects his popularity among conservatives who typically hold outsized influence in the Republican’s presidential selection process.
Clinton has yet to announce her 2016 intentions, but she is considered the overwhelming favorite to win her party’s nomination should she run.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich charged that Clinton would be “a prison guard for the past” should she become president. Gingrich, a 2012 presidential hopeful.
Rep. Michele Bachmann declared that the former secretary of state “has a lot to explain” should she run for president, raising pointed questions about Clinton’s work in Russia and Libya. And she challenged the Republican Party’s struggle with women.
Men dominated the speaking program for the first two days of the three-day event until the final day.
The imbalance caught the attention of Washington-based conservative blogger, Crystal Wright, a guest panelist on a discussion on how to attract more women.
“Part of it is basic optics. How did we start this conference? With one gender representing the movement of the conservative party,” she said, suggesting that women participants shouldn’t be “stacked up on one day.”
After a disappointing 2012 election season, Republican officials acknowledged the need to broaden the party’s appeal among the growing bloc of minority voters and women.
“Women are not a ‘coalition.’ They represent more than half the voting population in the country, and our inability to win their votes is losing us elections,” read an exhaustive self-examination released by the Republican National Committee less than a year ago. Ronald Reagan was the last Republican presidential candidate to win a majority of women voters.
The RNC report found that in order to attract more women, Republicans should become more “inclusive and welcoming” on social issues in particular. “If we are not,” the Republican authors found, “we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues.”
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