POLITICO/St. Pete Times Morning Score -- Special 'Presidency 5' edition -- Straw Poll day
ORLANDO —Rick Perry remains the favorite to win Florida’s Presidency 5 straw poll here today, though his Thursday night debate performance clearly hurt him. A surprisingly large number of the nearly 3,500 delegates were undecided before the debate, and Friday it was easy to find people shifting to Romney or at least reconsidering Perry.
“A game changer,” former GOP chairman and Romney backer John Thrasher said of the debate, predicting Romney will do “very well” Saturday.
Perry, who met privately with a dozen legislators Friday, will speak at a breakfast for delegates, and then bolt for Michigan before P5 actually kicks off. Former Railroad commissioner Michael Williams will speak on his behalf at the actual event.
The other candidates addressing the delegates are Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain (who could do well today, based on the buzz), Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.
Voting takes place from 4 p.m. to about 4:45, overseen by the Seminole County elections office. We should have results at about 5:30 ET. Florida Gov. Rick Scott will announce them to the crowd between 5:45-6.
ADAM C. SMITH MINDMELD –– THE ST. PETE TIMES POLITICAL EDITOR ON IMMIGRATION: Who would have thought Massachusetts health care reform could prove to be less damaging to Mitt Romney than illegal immigration to Rick Perry? Based on the last two debates, it could well be. It’s a reminder of how toxic immigration is among the Republican base and how tricky the issue will continue to be if the rhetoric gets too hard-edged as the party courts Hispanic voters. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush supported driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and then-state Rep. Marco Rubio supported a bill similar to the Texas Dream Act Perry is getting pounded on. Those days are gone. Florida Gov. Rick Scott won his primary largely by bludgeoning Bill McCollum on immigration. Here’s a web video of Smith and Hohmann chatting at the convention center yesterday afternoon: http://bit.ly/oawmKi.
FLORIDA INTEL – SNEAK PEEK OF RICK SCOTT’S KEYNOTE: Keep an eye on Gov. Rick Scott today. He was never a particularly active member of the Republican Party of Florida, but he’s delivering the keynote speech of Presidency 5 as the de facto head of the party. Scott put some effort into his speech, which comes just days ahead of the state’s expected decision to violate RNC rules with an early primary. Scott will hype the role delegates will play in the primary, saying they are the most important people in the most important state. According to an advance copy of the speech, Scott will say, “I’m convinced that the Republican candidate who wins Florida will be our nominee for president.” http://bit.ly/ncm4Np
SOME HISTORY – WHY P5 MATTERS: Florida has a history of holding significant "Presidency" conferences with debates and a straw poll, and actually, every winner of a Presidency straw poll has gone on to win the GOP nomination. Ronald Reagan won in 1979, George H.W. Bush won in 1987 and Bob Dole won in 1995. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the GOP opted not to hold a Presidency event in 2005. And in 2007, the party's Presidency IV featured a debate and speeches by all the major Republican candidates, but at the urging of several campaigns, particularly John McCain's, the party did not hold a straw poll.
THE OTHER STRAW POLL – MAKINAC, MICHIGAN: The results of the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference straw poll will be announced Sunday morning. CNN raises the curtain by noting Romney’s deep ties and strong organization in the state: “Perry will be mostly an unknown quantity to the 1,600 or so Republican activists when he speaks to them Saturday…Although some experts said they have not seen much of a Perry organization develop yet in the state, he is working on building one. He will meet with some activists and donors while at the Mackinac Conference.” http://bit.ly/pzgUwB ** Jonathan Martin landed in Michigan yesterday to discover that both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News played their Mackinac previews inside the paper.
MARCO RUBIO WATCH – SKIPPING CPAC, P5 FOR SPENDING SHOWDOWN: Alas, Sen. Marco Rubio had real work to do. A vote on a stop-gap spending measure kept him in Washington Friday (he voted no) but there was plenty of love for him at CPAC FL anyway. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said during a panel that history would show Rubio’s defeat of former Gov. Charlie Crist as a key moment in the conservative resurgence. Kristol said Rubio was the right choice for vice president and named another Florida lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Allen West. “I actually wouldn’t mind if Marco thought about running for president. He’s plenty ready.”
SIZING THEM UP – EVALUATING THE CANDIDATE CPAC SPEECHES: All nine from Thursday’s debate had 15 uninterrupted minutes Friday to speak to thousands of CPAC-Florida delegates in a dark, cavernous room at the convention center. Here are brief thoughts on each
• PERRY – DOWNPLAYING HIS BAD DEBATE: Perry sought to ease concerns about his uneven debate performance while tying Romney to Obama: “It’s not who is the slickest candidate or the smoothest debater that we need to elect.” He continued: "Remember President Clinton? He could sell ice cubes to Eskimos and then the next day be against ice cubes.
• ROMNEY— SHARPENING IMMIGRATION CRITIQUE: Romney showed the crowd a piece of paper with his hand-written notes when he started his speech. The maneuver came across an obvious attempt to counter the criticism that he’s too slick. Otherwise Romney’s remarks felt as much aimed at convincing delegates to not vote for Perry as much as to vote for him today. His most direct shot came on immigration: “I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart. It means that you have a heart and a brain.”
• BACHMANN – INSISTING ELECTABILITY DOESN’T MATTER: Overshadowed in Thursday night’s debate by Santorum and having lost many of her early supporters to Perry, Bachmann argued that electability shouldn’t matter to primary voters because whoever the nominee is will beat President Obama. “If there was any election when we conservatives don’t settle, it’s this election,” she said.
• SANTORUM –INTRODUCING HIMSELF: Santorum, so willing to be the attack dog in the last few debates, gave an almost exclusively biographical speech. Acting like he won the debate, he focused on what he got done during his decade-and-a-half in Congress. He said he’s got the “mettle” to survive criticism from Obama and vetting from the media, an implicit criticism of Bachmann.
• JOHNSON – EXCITED TO BE HERE: Catching attention for his dog poop quip, Gary Johnson ran through his plans for reforming Social Security, balancing the budget and cutting military spending. The former New Mexico governor looked genuinely thrilled to be a part of the discussion.
• GINGRICH – HYPING HIS NEW CONTRACT: The former Speaker of the House continues to fire up the hype engines ahead of a new Contract with America he plans to unveil next Thursday in Des Moines.
• PAUL – IN HIS COMFORT ZONE: Ron Paul, who has been forced to defend controversial elements of his ideology in debates, spoke at length on the monetary policy issue that put him on the map and has broader appeal.
• CAIN – MORE A PREACHER THAN A POLITICIAN: The former Godfather’s Pizza baron focused on the economy and touted his 9-9-9 plan. His preachy style is well-suited to this kind of format and crowd.
• HUNTSMAN – NOT PANDERING: The former U.S. ambassador to China greeted the crowd in Chinese, then quickly laughed and said he was just kidding. Following roars for Cain, Huntsman’s policy-focused speech switched them into (often polite) applause mode. But there were no boos when Huntsman announced that he disagrees with the base on a host of issues.
AN ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’S QUESTION – THE MOST INCENDIARY THING ANN COULTER SAID: The conservative commentator called Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz “a hideous beast who has a voice like a hyena getting an abortion." Name-dropping the liberal Florida congresswoman drew loud boos from the CPAC crowd. Video: http://bit.ly/n2ySnl.
DEBATE FALLOUT—WHAT BROKE THROUGH:
PERRY’S FACE PLANT – CONSERVATIVE ELITES AGREE HE BOMBED: Juana Summers sifted through all the commentary on right-leaning blogs. She has compiled damaging reaction from Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, National Review editor Rich Lowry, Michelle Malkin, RedState editor Erick Erickson, conservative Iowa radio talker Steve Deace and others. http://politi.co/qLsm8X
A POSSIBLE INFLECTION POINT – TEA PARTY LEADERS GIVE ROMNEY ANOTHER LOOK AFTER PERRY BOTCHES DEBATE: “The head of an influential Tea Party group that has been outspoken against Mitt Romney signaled Friday that their opposition to the former Massachusetts governor is softening as Rick Perry falters,” Jon Ward writes on The Huffington Post. “‘Romney has an opportunity to rehabilitate himself,’ [said] Matt Kibbe, chairman and CEO of FreedomWorks…‘It's not enough to be right and lose. The goal here is to win the presidency,’ Kibbe said.” http://huff.to/oYsTro.
6.1 MILLION WATCHED DEBATE: An average of about 6.1 million viewers tuned in during the two-hour event, including 1.7 million in the 25-54 demographic. It was the highest-rated debate so far this year. The Nielsen numbers: http://bit.ly/rn7XAX.
NO APOLOGY CHANGES – PERRY CAMP HIGHLIGHTS EDITS TO ROMNEY BOOK: Perry slammed Romney during the debate for downplaying health care when he revised it for printing in paperback. His "truth squad" posted a scanned-and-highlighted version of the omitted passage yesterday: http://scr.bi/o8PpK3
• A NEW WHITE HOUSE MESSAGE ON THE REPUBLICAN FIELD: “Governor Perry is someone who has led the tea party, and Governor Romney is someone who is being led by the tea party,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told NBC’s David Gregory. Watch: http://on.msnbc.com/roXZC9.
• AMERICAN BRIDGE HITS ROMNEY ON RACE TO THE TOP: American Bridge 21st Century quickly cut out a web video juxtaposing a clip of Romney praising Race to the Top on Wednesday against a clip from the Thursday debate after Perry attacked. It’s the second in their new “Mitt’s Flips” series: http://bit.ly/nIiwEe
• MOVEON HIGHLIGHTS BOOING OF GAY SOLDIER DURING DEBATE: The liberal group put out a web video criticizing the Republican candidates who stood silent at the debate when audience members booed during and after a YouTube clip from a gay soldier. There is dispute about what was being booed and how many did it, but this has already become a meme on the left. http://bit.ly/qadaGA
WHAT THE PRESIDENT IS UP TO – The president delivers remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation annual awards dinner in D.C. at 8:35 p.m. tonight. He has four fundraisers out west Sunday (flying to Seattle before hopping down to San Jose).
FLORIDA SENATE – HASNER WINS CPAC STRAW POLL: Former state House Republican leader Adam Hasner won a Republican Senate straw poll here with 34 percent in what remains a wide-open race. He finished ahead of retired U.S. Army Reserve Col. Mike McCalister, who pulled 30 percent. Former Sen. George LeMieux finished third with 24 percent. Craig Miller got 12 percent. Fifteen hundred ballots were cast. Recent public polling puts LeMieux in first and McCalister second, with a majority undecided. http://bit.ly/p8ca3W
2012 FUNDRAISING—PAUL RYAN TO CHAIR FUNDRAISING COMMITTEE: Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced yesterday that fiscal conservative rock star and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan will chair the RNC Presidential Trust. Priebus convinces his home-state ally to take on the project as Ryan’s reelection comes to look more secure (a much-hyped Democratic recruit did not really measure up, redistricting insulated Ryan and the backlash to his Medicare plan has died down). The RNC is the only party organization allowed by federal law to make coordinated expenditures with the presidential campaigns.
CODA – QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Right now I am the most Googled name on the planet because last night I came up with a witty sentence on dog poop...I appreciate that opportunity.” –Gary Johnson at CPAC, trying to convert his trending status on a search engine into actual traction [If you want to know more about the dark horse, GQ has published a new profile: http://gqm.ag/plijhN.]
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