"WASHINGTON - Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) took the top spot for the third year in a row at Saturday's Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, edging out Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker in the last CPAC presidential preference contest before primary voting begins. Paul had been the prohibitive favorite heading into this year's balloting, which featured 17 candidates. More than 3,000 attendees voted, a 20 percent increase over 2014's turnout. Nearly half identified as between the ages of 18 and 25...... .....Former Florida governor Jeb Bush had made a major effort to do well, sponsoring buses to ferry in supporters and paying entry fees for some who came - a push that brought him a fifth-place showing. Walker, who drew a significant level of grass-roots excitement at the conference with a strong performance in his Friday address, drew 21.4 percent of the vote, a significant improvement on his fifth-place showing last year. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who finished second to Paul in 2014, drew 11.5 percent of the vote, roughly the same as he had in 2014. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came in fourth place. New Jersey's Gov. Christie came in 10th place, with 2.8 percent of the vote. A candidate's popularity at CPAC hasn't been a great predictor of success with the larger GOP electorate, as attendees tend to have a stronger libertarian bent than the Republican majority. But prognostication isn't really the point of CPAC. The event - which is sponsored by think tanks, conservative websites, and influential interest groups such as the National Rifle Association - is more about theater, a forum for budding presidential candidates to road-test ideas. And in that regard, this year's gathering did not disappoint....."