The good news from Florida came for former Godfather’s Pizza boss Herman Cain: in a political shocker, he won the highly watched straw poll that has picked the winner of the GOP Florida primary in the last three Presidential elections. The bad news from Florida came for Texas Gov. Rick Perry: he had been expected to win and this will be seen as a sign that conservatives no longer consider him their darling in light of his tepid and clumsy performance in recent Republican Presidential debates.
This vote was unexpected and the size of Cain’s vote shows how much Perry has turned off GOPers. And Cain? Voters voted with their hearts for the candidate who they like the best. Perry has a likeability factor now with Republicans — and, most assuredly, with Democrats and some indendents.
And the good news also came for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had not put any effort into the straw poll but now sees Perry’s Big Mo slowed — and he came within a hair of matching Perry’s vote. Of course, if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cannonballs into the Republican Presidential nomination sweepstakes he’ll make a huge wave that is likely to overwhelm Romney and Perry. But here is the news of the night:
Herman Cain pulled off a shocking upset victory in Florida’s Presidency 5 Straw Poll on Saturday. The Georgia businessman won more votes than the Republican primary’s frontrunners — Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — combined.
The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO captured 37 percent of the vote, while Perry took 15 percent and Romney took 14 percent.
Cain’s surprise win threatened to upend the popular notion that Perry had become almost untouchable just weeks after announcing his presidential bid. It also underscored Perry’s recent struggles on the campaign trail, including two weak debate performances and a barrage of attacks from other candidates over his positions on Social Security and immigration.
“Folks, this is what you call momentum,” Cain said in a video released minutes after the results were announced. “The Herman Cain Train is picking up steam.”
The tally was also good news for Romney, who came in just 1 point behind Perry after weeks of trying to recapture the front-runner status he maintained during the early part of the race. And unlike Romney, Perry actively campaigned for the straw poll.
A USA Today/Gallup poll released a week ago had Cain at just 5 percent, trailing Perry’s 31 percent and Romney’s 24 percent..
Other vote tallies: former Sen. Rick Santorum, a hair less than 11 percent…Rep. Ron Paul 10 percent…
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) all garnered less than 10 percent.
Cain’s success came at Perry’s exprense. Perry had been widely expected to win the poll; the question had been by what margin he would beat Romney and the others.
But Perry’s failure to win over Florida Republicans on economic policy created an inroads for Cain, who spent much of the last weeks promoting his “9-9-9” plan to lower personal and corporate income taxes and institute a single-rate, national sales tax.
This bad news for Perry in several ways. It will further embolden Romney, who has been improving as a candidate and debater and is getting a begrudging, if skeptical, second-look by some conservatives who distrusted him. And then there is the news narrative:
It isn’t intentional or calculated, but the news media loves a story about a prominent person rising, skyrocketing to the top and then tumbling.
With this Florida vote, Perry is now in a tumbling news cycle.
UPDATE: But if you’re starting to count Perry out, think again..
UPDATE 2: Here are the final numbers:
Herman Cain: 37.11%
Rick Perry: 15.43%
Mitt Romney: 14.00%
Rick Santorum: 10.88%
Ron Paul: 10.39%
Newt Gingrich: 8.43%
Jon Huntsman: 2.26%
Michele Bachmann: 1.51%
But there’s potentially a bigger story. Conservative websites did a lot of pumping of Cain after his debate performance, pushing him as the winner. And some of these same sites had been pushing hard for Perry up until then. Then, as our Evan McMorris-Santoro first reported this after, Cain had his biggest 48 hours of fundraising to date in the two days since the debate. It’s impossible to say whether that online momentum helped Cain this afternoon or whether the fundraising was a sign of what was coming.
The bigger lesson I draw from it is that the conservative/Tea Party wing of the party is seriously disillusioned with Perry. But rather than draw what from the outside might seem a logical inference — that that means it’s Romney — they’re seeking a safe harbor. A safe conservative harbor. And right now that’s Cain. Until Perry gets his act together or someone else gets in or they just decide it’s gotta be Romney and learn to live with it.
The very quick take: excellent news for Cain, who generally shone in Thursday’s debate. Bad news for Perry, as he was actively trying to win this race (and did not shine in Thursday’s debate). Romney’s people are currently telling themselves and the media that it is not equally bad news for Romney, as he didn’t try to win this poll; which is true, but it’s bad news for Romney nonetheless. As Karl over at Hot Air notes, from Mitt’s point of view the race comes down to Romney vs. Non-Romney… and from what I’m seeing, the GOP base is more or less in agreement that they’d like not-Romney, thanks. For everybody else… this poll taunts Santorum, embarrasses Paul, and the rest should just go home. As should Santorum and Paul, frankly.
As to the more long-term implications: Cain gets a PR boost out of this that should at least give him more air time at the next debate. Perry takes another hit in people’s perception of him as electable. Everybody else – explicitly including Romney – stays stable (or stagnated) in their current support. And that’s it. This straw poll is not statistically rigorous; its significance begins and ends as a rough snapshot of current enthusiasm among a specific subset of extremely motivated and aware Republican partisans.
I write this, morbidly certain that folks are going to ignore that last observation completely…
The Perry camp proclaims the vote as a loss for Mitt Romney:
The Perry campaign cast their disappointing finish as a resounding victory over Romney, Perry’s top rival for the GOP nomination.
“It’s a devastating loss for Mitt Romney, who has been campaigning for president for the last five and a half years,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. “We have only been in this race for five and a half weeks. Mitt Romney still cannot resonate with conservative voters, especially in Florida.”
Miner admitted that “we still have work to do and we are going to get better.”