Sponsored by Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute and billed as the largest gathering of conservatives in the western United States, the two-day summit attracted more than 2,000 people to the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center in Aurora near Denver International Airport, according to organizers. Thousands more watched the program online.
DeSantis received 71% of the vote to Trump’s 67.7% in the non-scientific poll, conducted using the approval voting methods, which allows participants to select all the candidates they approve of in a race.
At the summit’s straw poll last year, using the same voting method, DeSantis led Trump by nearly the same margin, 74.1% to 71.4%.
Neither Republican has launched a formal bid for the White House but both are considered likely candidates.
The same survey found Heidi Ganahl in the lead for Colorado governor, with 61.7% to Greg Lopez at 47.9%. In Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, state Rep. Ron Hanks received 59.2% support, running ahead of Joe O’Dea, who received 51.4%. All four Republicans appeared on stage at candidate forums during the summit.
Former Republican Danielle Neuschwanger, who is mounting a third-party gubernatorial run, won votes from 14% of poll-takers. Democratic incumbents Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet received about 2% support.
In its 13th year, the summit featured workshops and speeches from conservative luminaries Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders and former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat who made an unsuccessful run for president in 2020. Others who spoke include former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, former Texas GOP chairman Allen West and pundits Matt Walsh, Benny Johnson and Cal Thomas.
Centennial Institute director Jeff Hunt, who emceed the program clad in western regalia, said the straw poll offers a glimpse at the pulse of the country’s conservative and evangelical communities.
“Clearly, the fighters are supported and celebrated by the conservative movement,” Hunt told Colorado Politics.
“It’s still very much a Trump-DeSantis Republican Party right now,” he added after stressing that the nonprofit he runs doesn’t make endorsements or otherwise take sides in elections.
The approval voting method allows voters to pick multiple candidates, which its promoters says yields a clearer picture of voter sentiment. Because poll-takers were able to tick as many boxes as they wanted, the percentages add up to more than 100.
Other potential 2024 presidential contenders lagged the top two vote-getters by wide margins. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came in third with 28.7%, followed by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson with 24.2% and Huckabee Sanders with 18.4%.
Meanwhile, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott received 17.4%, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo got 16.7%, Donald Trump Jr. secured 16.2%, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley received 15.5%.
Hunt noted that former Vice President Mike Pence, once the darling of evangelical Christians, lagged in 10th place in the straw poll with 14.4%, just ahead of Gabbard, who got 13.4% and Fox News personality Tucker Carlson at 11.8%.
“Clearly, Mike Pence doesn’t have the support of the base,” Hunt said.
Potential Democratic presidential candidates included among the 23 choices listed on the straw poll landed at the bottom, with 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang finishing highest with 1.2%. President Joe Biden scored 0.5% support, just ahead of last-place finisher Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The summit’s straw polls — conducted since 2010 for various offices, including president, vice president and Colorado governor — haven’t predicted the eventual nominees or winners in any race but in several cases caught under-the-radar enthusiasm for candidates who went on to become frontrunners, if only briefly.
Restaurant executive Herman Cain won the first presidential straw poll in 2011, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in 2012, Cruz in 2013 and Carson in 2014 and 2015. Former district attorney George Brauchler was the overwhelming favorite for Colorado governor in 2017, though he later dropped his bid and made an unsuccessful run for the state’s attorney general.