Retired businessman Herman Cain scored a major upset victory at the Presidency 5 Florida straw poll event on Saturday, easily outpacing the entire Republican field of presidential candidates in an exclusive vote of Florida Republican State Central Committee members. Mr. Cain scored 37.1 percent of the 2,657 ballots cast, or 985 actual votes.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a distant second at 15.4 percent (409 votes); former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney placed third, attracting 14.0 percent support (372 votes); former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was next, recording 10.9 percent (290 votes); and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) was the final candidate to land in the double-digit percentile (10.4 percent; 277 votes). Bringing up the rear were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (8.4 percent; 223 votes), former Obama US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (2.3% percent 61 votes), and finishing a surprising last was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), the Iowa Straw Poll winner, who registered a paltry 1.5 percent at Presidency 5, or just 40 votes.
Several points are worth mentioning about these results. First, unlike the Iowa Straw Poll, which was open to all registered Republican voters, the Florida vote was limited only to official party central committee members. These individuals are either elected or appointed to serve in party positions in their counties, thus giving them membership and voting privileges at statewide conventions. While the Iowa vote was a test of the general Republican voting public, Presidency 5 was a measure of strength within the official state GOP establishment. The fact that Mr. Cain would score an impressive win is yet one more piece of evidence that the Republican insiders are still looking for a candidate upon whom to rally behind.
Second, almost as big a surprise as Cain’s strong Florida performance, was Rep. Bachmann finishing dead last. Though certainly not a favorite of the party establishment – in fact, some of her appeal is that she energizes non-traditional conservatives to vote in the Republican primaries and general elections – attracting only the support of 40 people is another argument for the view that her flailing campaign may have crested when she won the Iowa Straw Poll in August. Certainly the fact that Ms. Bachmann made no attempt to garner support for Presidency 5 is a large part of the reason she did so poorly, but such is not the total cause. Most of the other candidates did not put forth a top effort either.
Third, the performance of perceived front-runners Perry and Romney is certainly a disappointment for both, but particularly the former. Here is where the Texas governor’s poor performance in the last televised debate may have had an impact. Party insiders, such as the group who participated in the this past weekend’s vote, would have been more likely to view or even attend the debate, thus his lackluster showing would have more greatly affected this particular straw poll event than an at-large primary vote.
Perry did invest time and resources into the Florida vote, which bodes even more poorly for his showing and campaign organization. During the Iowa Straw Poll, a 527 entity independent of the Perry campaign, called Americans for Rick Perry, implemented a write-in strategy that captured a record number of votes. In Florida, this group was not present.
For his part, Mr. Romney did not run an organized effort, which is consistent with his approach to all straw poll events. Therefore, both he and Perry badly under-performed in Presidency 5 based on their status atop the Florida Republican polls.
As has been the case since the very beginning of this GOP nomination campaign, the race continues to be a wide open battle. This is likely to continue until actual votes begin to be cast early next year at the Iowa Caucus and in the early primary states.