Rick Perry imperiled. Mitt Romney rising. Herman Cain catching fire
If there was any question about the effect of Thursday debate on today’s straw poll, talk to a few Republican Party of Florida delegates who seem ready to pick Mitt Romney over frontrunner Rick Perry, whose bad performance is weighing on him like a political millstone. Today's story here.
This is just informal chatter, and we won’t know what happens until the 3,500 or so ballots are cast. But this much is clear: There’s no clear frontrunner. And a Perry loss would be "disastrous" in the words of Republican polling and message-meister Tony Fabrizio (that story is here).
Some even think that Herman Cain could come in second, and that third place wouldn’t surprise anyone. Last night, at an event at the Rosen Center hotel, Cain's staff had to get a new, bigger event room to make way for all his admirers.
Room capacity: 700. There was a line out the door. Any Republican nominee who doesn't strongly consider Cain as a vice-presidential pick (business background, great oratory, African American, tea party favorite) needs to get his head examined.
Leon County delegate Francisco Gonzalez, now a Cain backer, said the longer Perry has remained in the race, the more he has looked elsewhere. Perry’s answers on immigration and his executive order attempting to inoculate girls from the human papillomavirus just weren’t satisfying. Perry’s debate style was even worse.
“All these things add up. And then he fumbled on stage,” Gonzalez said. “Why can’t we get someone who can speak, who’s articulate?” he asked, noting that there hasn’t been a great GOP presidential communicator since, well, the great communicator Ronald Reagan.
Rep. Scott Plakon, one of the state House's most conservative Republicans, became the first legislator to endorse Cain last night.
Some say Perry is “toast.” But toast – breakfast toast, that is – as well as bacon and eggs could save him after he hosted a throng of delegates at a morning breakfast where he worked the room and impressed people. The campaign said it served almost 1,200 (a third of the straw poll electorate).
“It showed he could come back strong after the debate, that he was still very much in this,” said Pinellas County delegate Rachelle Warmouth.
The stakes are huge. The past three straw poll winners have become the party's nominee. The winner will get loads of free media coverage and a likely boost in the national polls. Still, expect the Perry's-in-trouble storyline to echo about after the vote, even if he wins.
Romney's campaign has played the straw poll shrewdly, claiming he wouldn't "participate." That is, that he wouldn't address the delegates immediately before the vote. But he debated Thursday and was at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday here and his supporters are actively trying to get people to either vote for him -- or even for Cain to add a little extra buzz to that insurgent campaign and take more shine off Perry.
Warmouth said that, if Perry lost, it wouldn’t be the end of his campaign. But when or lose, the debate performance and the effect it’s having on party loyalists are a call to step up his game.
“He’ll have to have a strong recovery,” she said. “He needs to focus on his message.”
Warmouth’s friend, Eileen Blackmer, agreed: “He needs to work on the three C’s: Be clear, be concise, be complete.”
Blackmer also echoed the sentiment that Perry’s breakfast for the delegates was a good way to repair the damage. But she said the debates are more important than the food. And she faulted Perry, Romney and Michele Bachmann for not answering questions. By contrast, they say, Cain and Newt Gingrich are giving more specifics and solutions.
“I came into the debate knowing who I was going to vote for,” Blackmer said, referring to Perry. “Now I’m in a tailspin.”
Neither likes Romney much, though they say he has improved as a candidate in recent weeks.
Lee County delegate Dane Eagle said he’s for Romney. He likes the candidate’s message and polish on stage. And he fears that President Obama would walk all over Perry in debates.
“That’s what Obama does,” Eagle said. “He debates.”