NASHVILLE, Tennessee — After delivering an energetic 50 minute speech using no notes or teleprompter, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump easily won a presidential straw poll conducted at the annual convention of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, garnering 52 percent of the votes cast.
Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) finished second with 24 percent, and Dr. Ben Carson, another political outsider and Tea Party friend, finished behind Cruz in third.
The overflowing crowd of more than 1,000 attendees displayed a number of Trump signs, which they waved with enthusiasm . In his speech, Trump focused on his theme of making America great again through common sense, strength, and negotiations.
Trump showed a flair for personalizing his message, referring repeatedly to a new supporter, a 92-year-old woman in the audience, who told him that she was so impressed with his message that she had decided, for the first time in her life, that she would register to vote.
“And she’s going to vote for, me, I think!” Trump said.
Trump began his speech by praising the Tea Party movement.
“You have not been treated fairly. You know, people talk about the tea party, and you talk about marginalized? At least I have a microphone where I can fight back. You people don’t,” Trump told the enthusiastic crowd.
“The tea party people are incredible people,” Trump added.”These are people who work hard and love the country and they get beat up all the time by the media.”
Trump delighted the crowd with his frequent use of colorful phrases.
“I don’t want it to be about me. This is about common sense,” Trump said.
“Normally I wouldn’t say this, but I need your frickin’ votes!” he added as he smiled broadly.
The crowd seemed to appreciate his down-to-earth language and straightforward message.
Trump promised to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” He also criticized President Obama as a weak leader.
“Obama never read [my book] the Art of Deal,” he said.
Obama does not know how to negotiate, and that weakness is apparent, Trump said, especially in his dealings with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who clearly neither fears nor respects Obama.
The real estate billionaire also criticized Ford Motor Company for its recent decision to locate a new car manufacturing plant in Mexico, rather than Tennessee, which currently has a strong car manufacturing industry with three major companies — General Motors, Nissan, and Volkswagen — that currently have plants in the state.
Trump seems to be connecting with voters in ways the other Republican candidates are not.
When they attend the rallies of other candidates, they often emerge saying “yes, I agree with that.”
It’s different with Trump.
Voters, at least at the moment, seem to come out saying, “I want to go where he’s leading.”
The key question is whether Trump can maintain the momentum for his campaign that has swept him to the lead among GOP primary voters over the past two months all the way to the Republican convention in Cleveland, ten months from now in June 2016.