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The Rest of the CPAC Straw Poll

The headline was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 20 percent plurality in the presidential preference question, but I think the rest of the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll was rather more interesting. Here were CPAC attendees choices for “favorite conservative media personality.”

Rush Limbaugh – 26 percent

Glenn Beck – 17 percent

Sean Hannity – 11 percent

Bill O’Reilly – 10 percent

Ann Coulter – 7 percent

Laura Ingraham – 4 percent

Michael Savage – 3 percent

Mark Levin – 2 percent

Michael Medved – 2 percent

Neal Boortz – 2 percent

Bill Bennett – 2 percent

A couple of things here. First, Ann Coulter’s 7 percent is strikingly low, given how CPAC is her natural habitat. She can, as she did on Saturday, give a contentless Henny Youngman routine of rehashed jokes and get an overflow crowd screaming. Second, Michael Savage’s 3 percent is sort of reassuring, given that Savage is a conspiracy theorist whose hatred of Islam goes well beyond simple bigotry.

The most interesting thing is the ranking of Glenn Beck over Sean Hannity. Hannity is far more famous, his show gets better ratings, and he’s better-respected within a Republican Party that hands him top-tier guests. I remember driving through Fulton County, Ga. on Election Day 2008, listening to Sen. John McCain appear on Hannity’s radio show and beg voters to turn out. But Beck is a strange populist conservative who, in February, dedicated an episode of his TV show to the coming American meltdown and civil war.

How to explain Beck’s popularity? First, the Ron Paul supporters. Paul scored 13 percent of the CPAC straw poll vote, higher than his 2008 showing of 10 percent, even though there were more voters this year. Paul supporters adore Beck, because he (like Lou Dobbs) will talk about more fringy worries of the right, like a possible union between America, Canada, and Mexico.

Second, the Bush/McCain amnesia effect. Hannity is seen, correctly, as a partisan talker who promotes whatever Republican is in power or leading the party’s ticket. He was one of the few radio hosts, along with Hugh Hewitt, who backed the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers. As memory of Bush fades, perhaps Hannity will make a comeback with this crowd. Or perhaps they will become still more conservative and more aligned with the likes of Beck.

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