WASHINGTON, D.C., October 14, 2013 ( – The 2012 election ended just months ago, but candidates have been jockeying for position for the next political race since before election day. And the Republican currently leading the pack is Ted Cruz. The first-term senator from Texas won the 2013 Values Voters straw poll on Saturday.

Cruz garnered 42 percent of ballots cast at the social conservative confab this weekend in Washington.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum tied for second, with Senator Rand Paul following them.


Cruz may have benefited from having his speech interrupted numerous time by left-wing protesters, barbs he brushed away easily.

The poll win illustrates how effectively Cruz has capitalized on his growing statute with the party's conservative base during his 10 months in office to become a 2016 frontrunner.

Last month, Public Policy Polling ranked Ted Cruz the top presidential contender for the 2016 GOP nomination, although still within the margin of error with Rand Paul.

The mainstream media noticed the tipping point during Cruz's 21-hour speech against ObamaCare. Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor asked, “Is Cruz Now 'President' of U.S. Conservatives?” Philip Bump of The Atlantic called the “not-a-buster” the first campaign ad” of 2016, a theme taken up by Paul Whitefield in the L.A. Times.

But the momentum had been building for months. Cruz came in first at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver in July, winning 45 percent of the vote.

Those results contrast with his standing in this year's straw poll at the national conservative gathering CPAC, where he finished eighth, earning about half as many votes as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Paul, Christie, and Marco Rubio are already running in undeclared presidential campaigns. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is considered likely to enter the race. Other potential candidates include retiring Texas Governor Rick Perry, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and New York Congressman Peter King – an ardent critic of Cruz.

All of the straw poll's top vote-getters addressed the Values Voters Summit this week. Santorum, who won nearly four million votes and 11 primaries in 2012 despite sometimes being outspent by as much as four-to-one, hinted that running for president is “something that comes to mind every now and again, even today.”

But Cruz's ascendancy – sometimes called “Cruz control” – threatens to undercut other Republicans seeking their support from the Christian conservative movement, especially Santorum and Perry.

Click “like” if you want to end abortion!

Bob Vander Plaats, an important social conservative leader in Iowa, endorsed Santorum in 2008 – the eventual winner of the Iowa caucuses – but had an enthusiastic response to Ted Cruz.

Cruz also benefited from Marco Rubio's implosion as a Tea Party favorite. Rubio has seen his standing cut nearly in half over his support for the unpopular Senate amnesty bill for illegal immigrants. Rubio has not topped a Republican presidential poll since becoming the Republican face of the bill over the summer.

Perry, who stumbled badly during his 2008 race due in part to recovery from a back problem, could be eclipsed in Iowa by his fellow Texan.

“One advantage Ted Cruz will have over Rick Perry in 2016: you'll never have to worry about an 'Oops' moment with him,” said Bryan Fischer of AFR Talk's Focal Point program.

But some political insiders warn the support of values voters is not enough to deliver victory. “Intense grassroots energy is enough to deliver key wins, generate cash, and stay competitive. But it’s not enough to win,” The Daily Beast, a liberal website, warned. “To do that, you also need support from the establishment.”

Cruz's rush to prominence does not sit well with other Republican senators. Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, blamed Cruz's government shutdown strategy for the GOP's current woes. “We're in a bad place,” he told MSNBC's Morning Joe program this morning.

Other powerful Republican operatives are determined to put a social liberal at the top of the ticket in 2016. Karl Rove of American Crossroads has said he could see the 2016 presidential candidate supporting a bill redefining marriage.

Top GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, an 80-year-old casino magnate, has described himself as a socially liberal, “pro-choice” and pro-gay Republican – although he has begun aligning himself with President Obama after the president suggested he might be open to a military strike against Syria.

Santorum believes Republican primary voters will reject their well-funded candidates in 2016.

He blasted “the same advisors who botched these last two campaigns,” who believe, “since we can’t win with moderate Republicans, we have to now try to be liberal Republicans.'”

“We have not had a nominee that is willing to articulate a unified vision of what conservatism is” in 2008 and 2012, he said. “That's why we don't win.”