Presidency 5 Stirs Up The Race

Perry Comes Up Short as Cain Surprises
Events: Faith & Freedom Coalition Kick Off  |  FOX News/Google Debate  |  CPAC FL  |  P5 Convention and Straw Poll  |  General
Candidates and Campaigns: Cain  |  Gingrich  |  Huntsman  |  Johnson  |  Paul  |  Perry  |  Romney  |  Santorum

September 22-24, 2011—The Republican Party of Florida's Presidency 5 convention and straw poll
was one of the big events of the pre-primary period.  Almost 3,500 delegates from around Florida gathered at Orange County Convention Center in Orlando for Presidency 5 (P5), which included the FOX News/Google debate on Thursday night.  A Faith and Freedom Coalition kick off event and the first ever regional CPAC conference, held in conjunction with P5, added up to a busy week for Florida Republicans.

Unlike the Ames Straw Poll, where campaigns bought blocks of tickets and bused in supporters, Presidency 5 delegates formed a more representative sample of Republican Party activists (+).  RPOF spokesman Brian Hughes stated, "These are the core Republican activist base in the state of Florida—the grassroots, donors, elected officials at all levels." 

Seeking to connect with these activists, groups ranging from the Florida Federation of Republican Women to the East Side Tea Party set up booths as did quite a few Florida campaigns, for this was a good opportunity gather signatures for ballot access. 

Six candidates actively participated in Presidency 5: Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Rick Perry, and former Sen. Rick Santorum.  Their campaigns devoted varying amounts of resources to P5 and the related events.  The Perry campaign clearly put the most effort into P5, printing up a couple of special literature pieces and putting on a big breakfast for delegates.  Perry staff were very visible in the main lobby areas, ever ready to put lapel stickers on people passing by.  Mitt Romney, by contrast, spoke at the FFC and CPAC events, but adhered to his policy of not participating in any straw polls.  The Cain, Romney and Paul campaigns had tables for either CPAC or P5. 

Heading into Presidency 5 many attendees were very receptive to Perry's candidacy.  However, Perry's performance in the FOX News/Google debate, particularly his response on in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, hurt him.

Two receptions tell the tale of the surprising outcome.  Herman Cain drew a huge crowd to his reception at the Rosen Centre hotel on Friday night.  A long line of people stretched down the corridor, forcing the campaign move the event to a bigger room.  People waiting in line broke into occasional singing and chanting.  Finally the doors opened and people thronged in.  Hotel staff  brought in a platform to raise the podium so that Cain could be seen.  State Rep. Scott Plakon announced his endorsement of Cain and then the candidate himself spoke.  The atmosphere in the room was electric (and warm).

Early the next morning Gov. Rick Perry held a breakfast for delegates in the Grand Ballroom at the Rosen Centre.  Attendees served themselves bacon, eggs, an assortment of cakes, coffee and juice then headed into the room to enjoy their meal and hear Perry speak.  Perry P5 literature was set out on the tables and signs were on the chairs.  People crowded around Perry to get their photo taken as he worked the room.  However, after his speech there was a bit of desultory chanting, but not much excitement.    

Romney appeared to have significantly more support than the results showed.  There was a rumor that the Romney team encouraged supporters to vote for Cain, but there is no evidence that that happened.  What is true is that some delegates were not happy that Romney did not address them at P5 or even have a surrogate speak, and as a result a number of them supported other candidates. 

Many speakers at the P5 events noted the importance of Florida in the general election, still more than thirteen months off.  RNC co-chair Sharon Day, for example, stated "If we don't win Florida, we don't win the Presidency in 2012."  A number of speakers and attendees also pitched home state Sen. Marco Rubio as an ideal running mate.

When the votes were tallied Cain achieved a dominating win.  His remarkable personal story and successful business career, strong speaking ability honed in his years as a radio talk show host, upbeat, one might say Reaganesque personality, and support from Tea Party activists whose cause he has championed from the movement's early days led to the surprising result.  2,657 delegates cast votes (+):
  1. Herman Cain, 37.1%
  2. Rick Perry, 15.4%
  3. Mitt Romney, 14.0%
  4. Rick Santorum, 10.9%
  5. Ron Paul, 10.4%
  6. Newt Gingrich, 8.4%
  7. Jon Huntsman, 2.3%
  8. Michele Bachmann, 1.5% 
Of course, it is important not to read too much into straw polls.  Rep. Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll, yet her campaign has almost disappeared since.  The results did show that "frontrunner" Perry could face a very tough road ahead, and they provide a boost for Herman Cain.  The question now is whether he will be able to build on his P5 triumph.