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Rand Paul has won his third straight CPAC straw poll, but already some are saying Scott Walker’s strong second place showing means it matters less.

Don’t believe it.

Yes, Walker’s strong showing with little apparent organization is significant because it indicates real grassroots enthusiasm. And the actual Republican primary electorate will skew older than CPAC straw poll voters, to Walker’s benefit.

But Rand Paul still was able to hang on to first place in the midst of the Walker boom, edging out a movement favorite at the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists. That’s not nothing.

Paul also narrowly beat Walker when first and second choices were combined, 42 percent to 40 percent. That shows Paul was the second choice for many voters beyond his own libertarian base, which is critical to building on his father’s performance.

Were Paul’s supporters more organized? Sure. But that’s precisely what unscientific straw polls measure: organizational strength and grassroots enthusiasm.

Finally, the poll results on policy questions suggest that Paul and the liberty movement are shaping the views of younger conservative activists in ways that could reverberate well beyond 2016. Pro-life and pro-legalization.

That’s something to think about when people disparage Rand’s win by asking what Ron Paul’s straw poll victories got him.

Rick Santorum may have gotten more votes in the 2012 primaries, but whose campaign looks more consequential over the long term?

Rand Paul has an opportunity to win even more votes, growing the liberty movement while converting voters who in the past might have pulled the lever for Santorum.

The CPAC straw poll certainly doesn’t prove this will happen, but it is not a bad start.

W. James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner and the author of "Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped" (Regnery 2013). Follow him on Twitter @jimantle
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