OKLAHOMA CITY — Dr. Ben Carson won the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker finished a strong second.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who missed the the event due to Senate votes, finished third.
Carson received 25.4 percent of the vote to Walker's 20.5 percent. Cruz took 16.6 percent, with no other candidates cracking double digits. This includes big-name likely contenders who spoke to attendees, like Chris Christie (5.3 percent) and Jeb Bush (4.9 percent).
Carson supporters had a heavy presence at the conference, with many wearing campaign T-shirts and carrying a life-sized cardboard cutout of the candidate. Their organization paid off with a strong showing from voters who came from states outside Oklahoma. Walker actually got the most votes from Oklahomans, according to conference organizers.
Walker's second place finish was particularly impressive since he had no obvious operation on the ground. The two-term Wisconsin governor gave a well received speech on the first day of the conference, and has yet to officially launch his campaign.
Cruz, held up by the fractious debate over the Patriot Act, delivered a 25-minute video address that was warmly received by the crowd. Cruz's father, pastor Rafael Cruz, also spoke at the conference.
Carson was the only candidate to speak twice: He took Sen. Cruz's place as the keynote speaker Friday night, and also gave his scheduled Saturday talk.
Even among the candidates who showed up to speak, most campaigns did not have much of an organization in place to win the straw poll. Carly Fiorina didn't even speak until after the voting was over.
The two exceptions to this rule were Carson and Cruz's supporters, who were well organized.
A super PAC supporting Ben Carson, "The 2016 Committee," shelled out for 100 tickets and a booth at the conference, according to two representatives of the super PAC. Volunteers with the pro-Carson 2016 Committee told me that all or nearly all 100 tickets were taken.
These backers wore "I'm with Ben" stickers and super PAC volunteers helped supporters vote in the Saturday morning straw poll.
Other campaigns told me such a package cost $5,000.
Cruz chose a different route, the campaign told the Washington Examiner. Cruz's presidential campaign used a sophisticated method to identify supporters and get them to the conference.
The campaign created a model of the type of person that would be likely to attend the SRLC. They then ran that model against a database of known Cruz supporters in Oklahoma and the surrounding parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Cruz's campaign then sent out emails to supporters who matched the model 80 percent or more, suggesting the person might enjoy the conference and informing them there would be a straw poll and supporters who matched 97.5 percent or higher got phone calls suggesting they attend the conference.
The campaign estimated this effort cost $2,000. Cruz's campaign also had a booth at the conference, manned by volunteers and campaign staffers. None of this was enough to overcome grassroots enthusiasm for Walker.