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SRLC Post Mortem - Part I

Got back from Memphis last night. I'll have a column on the event up tomorrow, but here are some brief final impressions on the gang of speakers from this weekend:

Mitt Romney: I've already talked about Romney's performance, and his showing in the straw poll is evidence that his message resonates with the base - though it was also clear that Romney had put a decent amount of effort into mobilizing his folks for the event.

Mike Huckabee: I was impressed with Huckabee. It was the first time I'd seen him live and he has a genuinely warm, folksy way about him, a decent stump speech and a great life story. I spoke with his media consultant after the straw poll results were announced and she feigned satisfaction, though I was surprised he didn't do better given the event's proximity to his home state and how well his speech was received by the crowd of delegates.

Bill Frist: Location and expectations being what they were, this event held a ton of downside for Frist and very little upside. So he did what he had to do on the organizational front and got his home crowd out to vote. As a result, however, I don't know that the straw poll results give a true indication of where he stands with the base of the party at this point.

I spent fifteen minutes interviewing Senator Frist on Friday afternoon and I can tell you this: he immediately strikes you as a kind, caring guy, a true gentleman, and exceedingly smart and competent. As Mitch McConnell noted in his introduction of Frist on Saturday: can you name another person in America who has risen to the top of two of the most competitive professions in the country (heart surgery and national politics) in their lives besides Frist? Frist rose to Majority Leader after only 8 years in the Senate - faster than anyone else in history except Lyndon Johnson. You don't do that without winning the respect, trust and admiration of your peers. The biggest challenge for Frist is whether he can ignite the sort of excitement among the base he'll need to win the nomination and whether he's the sort of guy who can capture the imagination of the public. Right now, I'd say the jury is still out.

Sam Brownback: I was surprised Brownback didn't get a warmer reception from the crowd, I guess I expected his focus on socially conservative issues to ring more bells with the delegates. Part of this was Brownback's delivery: his rhetoric wasn't fiery or heavy on red-meat, and his speech was built primarily around Ronald Reagan's concept of American exceptionalism.

George Allen: Allen's performance in the straw poll is probably the biggest shocker of the weekend, only because he was so well received by the delegates. Despite drawing the early morning slot on Saturday (8:30m) Allen got the crowd going with an enthusiastic rendition of his stump speech that touched on a variety of issues - all of which brought approving applause. Allen had been downplaying the straw poll all weekend in his folksy, football fashion, calling the event a "fun pickup game" rather than a serious "intrasquad scrimmage." Still, expectations are part of the game and I'm sure his camp wasn't thrilled with the results - even if they have absolutely no long term meaning.

Part II of the post-mortem later today.