Florida GOP straw poll voters punish Perry, snub Romney

by Brendan Monaghan

If last week taught us anything, it’s that momentum can change very quickly, along with events. A week ago both the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves held two-game leads in their respective wild card races- Friday they’ll both be watching the start of the Major League Baseball postseason on television. Likewise, a week ago Republican presidential frontrunner Rick Perry was set to contest his third debate and held a sizable lead in the polls- seven points, according to the Real Clear Politics polling averages. Today, after considerable fallout after a performance that ranked somewhere between “awful, just awful” and “close to a disqualifying two hours,” Perry’s lead may not be there at all- two scientific polls and one Zogby poll show Perry trailing.

And a week ago, with that disastrous debate in Tampa fresh in their minds, Florida Republicans were set to vote in the Presidency 5 Straw Poll and deliver a resounding victory to Mitt Romney- the 1 to Perry’s 0 in an increasingly binary race to the nomination. Instead, last Saturday’s straw poll winner was not Perry or Romney but Herman Cain, long stuck in the field’s second tier. To be sure, Florida Republicans made no secret as to their voting intentions: Cain was a protest vote. They were angry with Perry accusing them of being heartless for not supporting his Texas DREAM Act and they were scared that Perry, who couldn’t slap Romney, wouldn’t be able to knockout President Obama in the debates that count.

But they still didn’t like Mitt Romney. With nothing at stake and no wasted vote to worry about, Florida Republicans chose en masse a candidate in Herman Cain they knew couldn’t win the nomination and admittedly wouldn’t vote for in January. His third-place preseason finish in a state he simply cannot afford to lose four months from now should raise a giant red flag for the Romney campaign. Romney has been so far unable to shake the conservative base’s distrust of him, which sees him as another John McCain. Perhaps it is still too early, but Romney has been equally incapable of capitalizing on Perry’s mistakes or pouncing on Perry’s fatal flaws.

On the same day as the debate in Tampa, National Review uncovered the details of Governor Perry’s highly emphasized jobs record. That he has reduced every other facet of the campaign to mere window dressing is entirely Perry’s own making- and a clear invitation for scrutiny. The article cited the Center for Immigration Studies and the Census, which uncovered damning results: 81% of the jobs created in Texas since 2007 were taken by newly arrived foreign workers, half of which were illegal immigrants. Perhaps Romney (or, really, any candidate not named “Rick Perry”) is waiting for the perfect time later in the campaign to bomb the bridge between Perry and his base. But shining the light on Perry’s signature issue could end the frontrunner’s campaign the next morning.

Just as they did last week, things could and very well will change yet again. There is still a long way to go before the first meaningful contests- although, with Florida leapfrogging the calendar like a troll who eagerly posts “FIRST!” on the message boards, at this point the Iowa Caucus could be pushed up to before Halloween. What we know, however, is this: Perry’s supporters are shaken and stymied but realistically stuck with nowhere else to go. It’s unclear, therefore, to see right away who would benefit in the event of a Perry implosion. On the other hand, Romney’s credibility- and likability- issues with the conservative base remain a major liability. His path to the nomination goes throughFlorida and in this closed primary, it relies on winning over the remaining undecideds. To most conservatives, for now Romney remains locked out.


Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State University, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program, and a regular contributor at Oregon Catalyst. Brendan is studying political science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.