The results won’t come ’til dinnertime on the east coast but Perry’s expected to speak shortly after 3 p.m., so here’s your chance to watch the next round of damage control. If he’d done well at the debate, this straw poll wouldn’t even be worth blogging: Romney’s not actively competing (although he’ll be on the ballot) whereas Perry’s spent a bunch of money to make a splash in a crucial primary state. A month ago, under those circumstances, it would have been a walkover for him. As it is, reporters ranging from Byron York to Stephen Hayes to Dave Weigel have been struck by the negative buzz among Floridians about Perry’s Thursday night flameout. York, in fact, thinks there might be a late surge today towards Herman Cain:
Imagine poor Morgan Freeman trying to make sense of the world if Cain pulls an upset. As for Perry, it’s too late to lower expectations: He’s said publicly that the Florida straw poll is “very important,” so if he does poorly, the headlines tomorrow will be brutal — especially if Romney, despite exerting no effort, does surprisingly well. I think Perry wins, but keep your eye on the final margin. Here’s the livestream.
What seems to be happening is this: A lot of delegates came to Orlando planning to vote for Rick Perry. But Perry’s poor performance at Thursday night’s Fox News-Google debate gave them pause and re-opened the question of whom they will support. And many of the conservatives who were attracted to Perry will, when asked for a second choice, naturally gravitate to Cain, who, it just happens, had a particularly good debate on Thursday. So with Perry not commanding the loyalty he did just 48 hours ago, Cain appears to be picking up support…
Could Cain actually win? It seems unlikely, but it’s an outside possibility. Cain’s fortunes depend on whether the delegates here decide to vote strategically — to support the candidate they consider the most likely to win the Republican nomination and go on to general-election victory — or to vote their principles and let practical matters work themselves out later. If the delegates go the latter route, a lot will choose Herman Cain.
Update: Not only did Cain pull it off, it wasn’t close. The numbers: Cain 37%, Perry 15%, Romney 14%. A total embarrassment for Perry, and it actually could have been worse. Here’s what Florida state representative Matt Gaetz tweeted before the vote:
Romney campaign is having their #Presidency5 delegates vote for Cain to skew results. #dirtytricks
If that’s true, and no one knows if it is, then Romney’s supporters might have pushed Mitt to second and Perry all the way down to third simply by sticking with their guy. More from Weigel:
“It shows you something,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “The road to the White House is right through Florida. It pays to be here.”
Of course, Perry had shown up — he was here from Thursday night to Saturday morning, working over delegates personally. By failing so convincingly, Perry’s ensured that the weekend’s “trouble for frontrunner narrative” will be plated in gold and frozen in amber…
Multiple delegates told me that had been undecided between Perry and Cain, especially after the debate, but decided to boost Cain because he could use the boost.
That boldface part will be Perry’s spin. Everyone else will take the results as a thumbs down on the current frontrunner’s performance to date.
Update: Perry wanted this bad:
Gov. Rick Perry is betting big on a non-binding straw poll Saturday in Florida, where conservative activists were rattled by a shaky debate performance and his moderate views on illegal immigration.
Perry told delegates at the GOP “Presidency 5” convention in Orlando that Florida is the state that “picks presidents.” Noting Florida’s decisive role in the 2000 election — and in turn in his own elevation to the Texas governor’s office — Perry said he was counting on a victory in the Florida Straw Poll to give him a boost.
“Here we are 11 years later and I’ve got all my hopes on Florida again,” Perry said. The stakes (and expectations) are high for Perry because he has spent a lot of time and money trying to win the contest, while his top two rivals, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, are not actively competing.
Update: Spin, Perry camp. Spin like the wind!
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.”