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Cruz the overwhelming favorite in conservative straw poll

NBC News

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, addresses conservatives at the annual Values Voter Summit on Friday. Cruz was one of the biggest draws of the annual conservative gathering, and his speech was interrupted multiple times by immigration reform activists.

Though his approval rating may be slipping nationally, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz received an overwhelming nod of confidence from conservative activists on Saturday with a decisive victory in the Values Voter straw poll.

The Texas firebrand received a whopping 42 percent of the vote at the gathering of social conservatives, garnering more than triple the amount of support of second place finisher, conservative activists Dr. Ben Carson, who got 13 percent. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum came in a close third, also receiving 13 percent of the vote. Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio rounded out the top five, receiving six and five percent of support, respectively. 

Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council President that sponsored the summit, said Cruz was “very grateful to know that there are Americans across the country who are standing with him as he stands for your values in Washington, D.C."

All of the top five finishers addressed the summit, which is a common stop for conservatives mulling presidential runs. Notably absent was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who Perkins said was not invited because he does not routinely work with the group.

Cruz's speech Friday was one of the main draws of the annual conservative gathering in Washington, D.C. The freshman senator continued his dire warnings about the effects of the Affordable Care Act, saying the nation has just " a couple of years to turn this country around or else we go off the cliff to oblivion."

While speaking at the Voter Values Summit in Washington D.C., Sen. Ted Cruz jokes about the Senate Republicans' meeting with president Obama later today concerning the shutdown, joking  "If I'm never seen again, please send search and rescue team. I very much hope tomorrow morning I don't wake up amidst the Syrian rebels."

Throughout his remarks he was also heckled by immigration reform activists, a back-and-forth he relished and that fired up the crowd. "President Obama’s paid political operatives are out in force today … You know why? Because the men and women in this room scare the living daylights out of them,” he said to big applause.

But Cruz's victory comes just days after a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found the his popularity, along with that of the Republican party as a whole, has taken a significant hit because of the ongoing government shutdown. The Texas Republican largely became the face of tea party resistance to any government funding deal that did not defund Obamacare after his 21-hour speech on the Senate floor railing against the legislation. 

As a result, the poll found, the number of Americans who view the Texas Republican negatively has more than doubled since June, from 12 percent to 28 percent.

The poll also found just 24 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion about the GOP, and only 21 percent have a favorable view of the Tea Party, which are both at all-time lows in the history of poll.

Asked on Friday to respond to the findings, Cruz dismissed the polls methodology, saying the polls was overly weighted with government workers and supporters of President Barack Obama. But even when Democrats are removed from the poll's results, a majority of Republican and independents have strongly negative reactions towards the GOP as a result of the shutdown. 

But Saturday's results suggest the most conservative members of the Republican party firmly support Cruz. Activists like the ones attending the summit have helped propel Republican presidential hopefuls to victory in early primary and caucus states.