WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky came out the favorite for the second straight year among Republican conservative activists voting for the candidate they would like to see in the White House next.
Paul, a potential 2016 White House contender, won 31 percent in the annual straw poll taken at the Conservative Political Action Conference. His closest competitors were Texas Senator Ted Cruz, with 11 percent, and conservative neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 9 percent.
The straw poll was announced at the end of a three-day conference that typically draws many young conservatives. Organizers said one in two of the 2,459 people who participated in the poll were between 18 and 25 years old.
Paul was one of four potential Republican presidential candidates to address the annual conference on Friday, along with Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
The Kentucky lawmaker drew a rousing response when he accused President Barack Obama of running roughshod over personal liberty with programs like the National Security Agency's electronic surveillance. He asked attendees to "imagine a time when the White House is once again occupied by a friend of liberty."
Paul sounded a similar note on Saturday when he thanked them for their support.
"The fight for liberty continues, and we must continue to stand up and say: We're free and no one, no matter how well-intentioned, will take our freedoms from us," he said in a statement.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio came in a close second to Paul at last year's conference but has since suffered among conservatives for his support of immigration reform. He trailed this year with 6 percent of the vote, behind New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's 8 percent, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's 7 percent and Santorum's 7 percent.
Organizers said 25 candidates were on the ballot, but there were still a number of write-ins, including former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and the late U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, who served from 1923 to 1929.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Marguerita Choy)