Conservative activists have picked Tea Party favourite Senator Rand Paul as their choice to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee as they wrapped up a major strategy gathering outside Washington.
Paul, popular among the younger conservatives who thronged to the Conservative Political Action Conference, on Saturday narrowly beat Senator Marco Rubio - also tipped to seek the White House - by 25 to 23 per cent in the CPAC Straw Poll.
The Kentucky lawmaker saw his profile raised after mounting a 13-hour, non-stop filibuster in the Senate earlier this month to block John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA. He used the blocking tactic to press for answers from President Barack Obama's Democratic administration on its drone policy.
Former senator Rick Santorum, a 2012 hopeful, received 8 per cent of the vote, closely followed by rising Republican star Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey with 7 per cent and Representative Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate to try to oust Obama from the White House, with 6 per cent.
Some 2,930 CPAC members participated in the straw poll.
"We convened thousands of energised conservatives today at this 40th annual national CPAC 2013 from across the entire country," said Al Cardenas, chairman of The American Conservative Union.
"It's been a longstanding and fun tradition at CPAC national as well as our regional CPACs to poll the attendees and get their opinion on a number of important issues."
Earlier in the week, Paul insisted on a new direction in Republican politics: "The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered."
Paul's father, former Texas Representative Ron Paul, won the poll in 2010 and 2011, while presidential nominee Mitt Romney took the honour last year. Ron Paul unsuccessfully competed for the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012.
Rubio drew thunderous applause by proclaiming that the Republican Party does not need any new ideas: "There is an idea. The idea is called America, and it still works," he said in a speech aimed squarely at middle-class voters.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who was placed sixth in the straw poll, encouraged Republicans to be aggressive, but also warned them to focus on middle-class concerns.
"We need to be relevant," he said.
The Republican gathering also featured Romney, who delivered his first speech since his Election Day loss four months ago on Friday.
He offered a valedictory of sorts, thanking activists for supporting his campaign, while conceding mistakes — although he did not offer any specifics.
In a nod to the next generation, he urged conservatives to learn lessons from the nation's 30 Republican governors.
Walker said late last month that a 2016 presidential bid "would be an option," although it was not something he was "actively pursuing".
Additional reporting by Associated Press