Michele Bachmann, who scored a high-profile straw vote victory inIowalast month, finished last, with less than 2%. The Minnesota congresswoman, like Romney, chose not to compete in the Florida ballot.
In a statement, Perry himself congratulated Cain and took a veiled shot at Romney, saying that “Floridians and voters nationally want a candidate who is clear on the issues and talks honestly about the future, not someone who takes multiple sides of an issue and changes views every election season.”
“Today’s vote demonstrates that Floridians are energized and ready to help getAmerica working again,” said Perry, who leftFlorida earlier Saturday to participate in this weekend’s GOP conference inMichigan.
John Stemberger, a Perry backer who heads the Florida Family Policy Council, acknowledged that the result was a “significant upset” and pointed to the debate as an explanation.
“I think Perry’s still very viable. The debate was the issue. It just underscores the importance of communication in this business,” Stemberger said. “If he had been better at the debate, I think we wouldn’t have had this result. I think he’s got to work on his ability to communicate.”
Ahead of the test vote, Perry’s campaign bought breakfast for hundreds of the party faithful assembled for a three-day conference and debate. Perry said skipping the straw poll was a blunder.
“Ronald Reagan understood how important it was in ’79, and that’s the reason I’m here today,” said theTexasgovernor, who left town after mingling with hundreds of breakfast guests for about an hour. The delegates who ate Perry’s scrambled eggs, bacon and ho gave his eight-minute breakfast speech a rather perfunctory reception.
Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza executive who has never held political office, gave a fiery speech to the Republican delegates here Saturday. Activists acknowledged that Cain was unlikely to win the presidency, but rallied to his down-the-line conservative message.
Cain’s speech Saturday energized the attending activists. “Let’s send Washington a message: We the people are still in charge of this country. Not we, the bureaucrats. Not we, the government,” Cain told the conference.
Cain’s message struck a chord with delegates like Jeff Lukens, 54, who came to the OrangeCountyConvention Center expecting to vote for Perry but said theTexasgovernor gave “a disappointing performance in the debate.”
“I don’t believe Herman Cain will be the nominee, but I hope that [his] standing for some of the more conservative candidates sends a message that I hope will be embraced,” explained Kevin McNevin, a delegate from Sarasota, at a Saturday breakfast hosted by the Perry campaign.
Perry’s defeat was also a significant blow to the Florida Republican Party. State GOP officials had heavily promoted what they described as their straw ballot’s predictive power.
In an interview with the Associated Press Saturday after he had leftFlorida for a lunchtime speech inMichigan, Rick Perry addressed speculation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie might reconsider running for president in 2012.
“I see anybody that gets in the race that believes in America and is a small government but efficient government individual, I would welcome into the race. It just strengthens the point that the Republican Party’s all about getting our country working again. Whoever that is,” Perry said of Christie.
“And I’m also a big believer in these governors being freed up to be able to compete against each other. Chris Christie is a great competitor – and I’ll be up there, you know, in Jersey, looking for some businesses to move to Texas,” he said.
Christie insisted just this Thursday that he does not plan to run for president in 2012. Bill Palatucci, Christie’s longtime friend and political adviser, told the AP on Saturday night, “Nothing has changed.” [via Huff Post, Politico, Los Angeles Times and Newser]