Washington (CNN) - A year ago, he had never held elected office. Today, he is one of the country's top potential presidential candidates for 2016.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won the Values Voter Summit straw poll Saturday with a commanding 42% of the vote. Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon and Fox News contributor, finished in second place, one vote ahead of former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, a 2012 GOP presidential candidate. They effectively tied, with 13% of the vote each.
Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida rounded out the top five at 6% and 5%, respectively. GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, the former vice presidential candidate from Wisconsin, finished just behind them.
Carson won the vice presidential straw poll, with 21%, four points ahead of Cruz's second place. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, placed third with 9%, and Paul and Rubio again rounded out the top five at 8% and 7%, respectively.
But the real story is Cruz, a freshman senator who has enjoyed a meteoritic rise to the top of the Republican Party's right wing. His first-place finish captured the highest percentage of votes since the straw poll began in 2007.
“The Values Voter straw poll reveals what conservative, Republican-leaning voters are looking for in a potential candidate," Family Research Council Action President Tony Perkins said in a statement. The Family Research Council sponsors the conference. "Values voters are looking for those who will refuse to be bound by the ‘can’t mentality’ of the establishment and will challenge the status quo."
The Values Voter Summit, a political conference for social conservative activists and organizations, held its eighth annual conference in Washington. More than 2,200 people participated this year - although the whole event generates an even greater buzz on social media and in conservative circles across the country.