Cain Wins Florida Straw Poll

Cain Wins Florida Straw Poll

By Carl M. Cannon - September 24, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A three-day Republican politics-fest that included speeches, retail politicking, and a nationally televised debate was punctuated Saturday evening by a stunner -- a big win for political neophyte Herman Cain in Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll.

Cain, who has never held elective office, received nearly as many votes as the three next finishers combined. A big cheer went up from the delegates in the cavernous convention hall when Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Cain’s winning total: 986 votes out of the 2,657 that were cast, for a percentage of 37.1 percent.

“We won! We won!” his followers hollered as they made their way up the escalators and out into the sunshine. “Nine, nine, nine,” chanted others, in reference to Cain’s economic platform: A loophole-free 9 percent corporate tax, a 9 percent federal income tax rate, and a 9 percent national sales tax.

The question, as is the case after every straw vote, is: What does any of this mean?

Most likely, the answer is that it means nothing. “They aren’t choosing delegates to the Republican nominating convention,” pointed out Kevin Madden, an adviser to GOP co-frontrunner Mitt Romney.

His point is well-taken, as Ron Paul can attest. In June, the Texas congressman won a big straw vote victory at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. He also finished a close second in the much-ballyhooed Ames Straw Poll in mid-August. On Saturday, however, Ron Paul received only 10.4 percent of the vote.

And though Rep. Michele Bachmann’s victory in that Iowa straw vote drove her fellow Minnesotan, Tim Pawlenty, from the presidential race, Bachmann finished in eighth place here on Saturday, with only 40 votes -- 1.5 percent. Ames, it seems now, may have been the congresswoman’s high-water mark.

If these straw polls are indicative of the mood and inclinations of a political party’s activist base, however, Saturday’s results might indeed have meaning. For one thing, the results underscored the rough patch that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has experienced. Coming into the Orlando confab, this straw vote was his to lose -- and he lost it

Perry’s uncertain performance in Thursday night’s debate was mentioned by numerous delegates who ended up voting for Cain -- or other candidates -- and even some of Perry’s voters said Cain impressed them more.

“I stuck to my guns with Perry,” said Kenneth Guntkowski, a financial adviser from St. Lucie, Fla. “But after hearing them speak, I was thinking of changing to Cain. He has a plan.”

Perry shot to the lead in the GOP field when he entered the race six weeks ago. But his second-place finish here with 15.4 percent of the votes suggests that this nomination isn’t going to be handed to him.

For starters, Romney -- whom Perry replaced as the front-runner in the polls -- is not just going to go away. Romney finished just behind Perry in the straw poll despite not competing for votes, and lambasted Perry during the debate from both the left (on Social Security) and the right (on immigration). Other candidates, notably Bachmann, joined in those critiques, and it was clear from talking to the delegates Saturday night that that took some of the luster off Perry. And Romney managed to do it without compromising a key rationale for his candidacy, which is that he’d be a strong general election opponent for President Obama.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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