The Pennsylvania Leadership Conference last weekend was especially hot because of the 2016 presidential race and the fact that the commonwealth's April 26 primary is so relevant this election cycle.
As a result, conservatives, a good number of libertarians and a record supply of college students flocked in.
Ted Cruz was a big hit; the place was electric during his remarks. In comparison, the talk by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a McKees Rocks native, was not nearly as well-received; he seemed to fall flat. That isn't unusual for Kasich – a good guy and successful governor who everyone in that room would choose over Hillary Clinton.
But he's not someone who fires up the faithful.
As for Donald Trump, he was a no-show, even though repeatedly invited by conference organizers. I suspect Trump's absence was for the same reason he bailed out of the American Conservative Union's 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference: the public relations fallout generated by prospective headlines such as "Trump booed at top gathering of Pennsylvania Conservatives" would have been very damaging.
Trump's unpopularity was reflected in the results of a straw poll. Although it was not a scientific sample, it was an instructive look at what hard-core Pennsylvania conservatives are thinking.
Cruz received 65 percent of the vote; Trump was a distant second at 13.6 percent, eclipsing Kasich by one vote.
Equally interesting: Although these conservatives overwhelming listed Hillary Clinton as the least trustworthy of all candidates, Trump scored a firm second.
But most compelling, these largely Republican respondents were asked if they would vote for Trump if he were the Republican nominee (a rather amazing question in any election cycle but this one). Nearly one-third said they would not vote for Trump over the Democrat. Some of the respondents listed their preferred write-in candidates, with answers ranging from libertarian Gary Johnson to (my own favorite) the "Sweet Meteor of Death."
I know numerous conservatives who will not vote for Trump. And yet, there were audible gasps in the crowd as this finding was posted on the big screen.
"Oh, that's just terrible!" sighed one woman near me. "You need to support the nominee!"
Well, not if it's Donald Trump, apparently. Not at this premier gathering of Pennsylvania conservatives .
And that's a key message headed into the Pennsylvania primary and November.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His recent books include "11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative."