Forget Iowa. The straw poll every one is talking about is the one that occurred on Saturday in Florida. That's the one Gov. Rick Perry won, right? Nope. Oh, that's the one former Gov. Mitt Romney won, eh? Nope. When all was said and done, conservative businessman Herman Cain emerged as the winner. Was it a fluke? Was it a protest vote? Or perhaps... maybe the voters are giving the "second tier" another look.
First, the data. In a straw poll election held by Florida delegates selected from around the state, Herman Cain captured 37.1 percent of the vote. In second place was Rick Perry with 15.4 percent followed by Mitt Romney with 14 percent. As the AP notes in its story, "While all declared candidates were on the ballot, the first-tier candidates did not compete. Perry bought hundreds of activists' breakfasts on the sidelines before heading to Michigan. Romney skipped and didn't send representatives to the forum."
Fox News reports that the remaining candidates on the ballot finished with the following percentages: Santorum: 11%; Paul: 10.5%; Gingrich: 8.5%; Huntsman: 2%; Bachmann: 1%. As a reminder, Michele Bachmann was the winner of the straw poll in Iowa.
Following his victory, Cain said:
"Thank you to the Republican voters for this incredible honor of being named the winner of the Presidency 5 straw poll in Florida today," Cain said in a statement after the results were in.
"This is a sign of our growing momentum and my candidacy that cannot be ignored. I will continue to share my message of 'common sense solutions' across this country and look forward to spending more time in Florida, a critical state for both the nomination and the general election," he said.
But does this straw poll mean anything? As noted in the Fox News story, both Romney and Bachmann had left Florida "before the voting began and their campaigns discounted the straw poll's role in the campaign. Other first-tier candidates hadn't actively organized for the Florida vote, either. So the results probably won't shuffle the campaign's standings and were shaping up as little more than a popularity contest among the delegates selected by local party organizations."
Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, Cain said the results were "not a protest vote." Here's what he had to say on Fox News:
So... was a vote for Cain a vote for "none of the above"? Yes, it was, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Ok... before you freak out, keep reading.
Before Rick Perry entered the race, people asked me what I thought about his candidacy. Without hesitation, I told each person who asked that if Perry ran, it would be a "game changer." It was. Perry vaulted to the top of the polls. He instantly become the front runner. The real question is... why? The answer is because conservatives were looking at the field and could not find "their candidate." Some who wanted an alternative to Romney focused on Michele Bachmann. But when Perry entered, that focus and attention shifted to him. He was now the choice of conservatives.
Game over, right? Wrong. With each passing debate, people are realizing that this race is still wide open. Because of some very poor advice on message and delivery, Perry has stumbled. Conservatives are having a real problem with his stances on some of the issues. So then comes the Florida straw poll. Now, if any of the top candidates were truly strong, then he or she would have won the poll even without massive campaigning. The problem lies in the fact that conservatives are once again scratching their heads and wondering what is going on with the top of the field.
If "none of the above" can win a poll, it means that people like Perry and Romney need to do a better job on the issues. It also means that "none of the above" represents a sizable block of voters who want someone who represents them. But most importantly, "none of the above" gives people an opportunity to hear more about a no-nonsense, conservative. "None of the above" now has a name, and his name is Herman Cain.