Herman Cain wins Florida GOP straw poll. How big a loss for Rick Perry?

Herman Cain won Saturday's GOP straw poll in Florida by a wide margin, although he's still way behind in national polls. The big loser was Rick Perry, who campaigned hard for the Florida poll as a way to recover from his lackluster debate performance.

Phelan Ebenhack/Reuters
Presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks to delegates during the Republican Party of Florida Presidency 5 Convention in Orlando on Saturday, Sept. 24. Cain won the Florida straw poll, beating front-runner Rick Perry by a wide margin.

Herman Cain had his moment in the Florida sun Saturday, winning that state’s straw poll of party activists and dealing another blow to Rick Perry.

The Texas governor had counted on the Florida beauty contest to boost his chances after a lackluster performance in Thursday night’s Republican presidential candidates debate, and he’d actively courted delegates. But with just 15 percent of the 2,657 votes cast, Perry won fewer than half the 37 percent going to Cain and just a fraction more than his main rival Mitt Romney, who did not actively participate in the electioneering.

"We were all looking at Perry as our knight in shining armor, but we're finding out he has some baggage," Joyce Estes, a delegate from Apalachicola, told the Wall Street Journal. "The question is how much baggage we can accept."

Such votes are hardly representative of all voters, or even of a cross-section of typical Republican voters. Those voting at straw polls are party activists – in this case those at the weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

So while Cain, a businessman who’s never held elected office, can point to the straw poll results as support for his “999 Plan” for economic growth, it doesn’t necessarily advance him beyond the second tier of Republican presidential hopefuls.

The unscientific vote didn’t do much for Michele Bachmann either. Like Romney, she was not actively participating in the straw poll. But her name was on the ballot, where she came in dead last among the eight candidates – a far cry from her first-place finish in the Iowa straw poll in mid-August.

Florida is an important swing state, perhaps more so since it likely will move up in the primary/caucus calendar, following Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada in the candidate-selection process.

All the candidates will compete in Florida, and Cain’s victory gives him at least a morale boost for his effort.

"This is a sign of our growing momentum and my candidacy that cannot be ignored," Cain said after the results had been announced. “I will continue to share my message of 'common sense solutions' across this country and look forward to spending more time in Florida, a critical state for both the nomination and the general election.”

But in national polls, Cain generally remains back in the pack in single digits, and most analysts give him little chance of winning the nomination.

The latest Rasmussen poll gives him just 7 percent; the McClatchy-Marist poll has him at 5 percent, as does the CBS News/New York Times poll of Republican primary voters; the Bloomberg News national poll gives him 4 percent; and the CNN/Opinion Research poll puts Cain at 5 percent.

As reported by Politico.com, here are Saturday’s straw poll results:

1. Herman Cain, 37.1%
2. Rick Perry, 15.4%
3. Mitt Romney, 14%
4. Ron Paul, 10.4%
5. Rick Santorum, 10.9%
6. Newt Gingrich, 8.4%
7. Jon Huntsman, 2.3%
8. Michele Bachmann, 1.5%

A straw poll is being taken this weekend at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan (Romney’s home state). The Values Voter Straw Poll of social conservatives is next month in Washington, and the Illinois Republican Straw Poll is Nov. 5.

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