But straw polls are a legitimate test of organizational strength and grassroots enthusiasm. Even in 2008, Paul had the latter in spades. But Paul-affiliated organizations like the Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty are starting to come into their own, becoming savvier and more sophisticated. Paulites blended more naturally into their CPAC surroundings than during the previous two years. And the movement is even losing its cult of personality aspect, as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Judge Andrew Napolitano, and bestselling author Thomas Woods become significant figures alongside Paul.
Foreign policy remains a huge dividing line. Most self-described conservatives believe not only that the Iraq war was just, but that it was a success (thanks mostly to the surge). A Campaign for Liberty panel discussion at CPAC questioned not only the Iraq adventure but the entire concept of the war on terror. But foreign policy has clearly taken a backseat to the economy and the growth of government. And Republicans have proved more willing to criticize military interventions now that there is a Democratic commander-in-chief.
The antagonism between conservatives who identify with Paul and the rest of the mainstream movement still remains, however. Many people at CPAC booed Paul when the straw poll results were announced. At the Paulian events, contemporary Republican leaders aren't referred to any more glowingly than Barack Obama.
BTW Alaska had some boots-on-the-ground there..