But stark morning-after questions remain:
Can he keep up the momentum among his Republican rivals for the 2012 presidential nomination? Will the results of what is essentially a candidate beauty contest make any difference in the national polls, which are a much more accurate gauge of how the rivals are doing compared to each other (and to Barack Obama)? And will it mean sharper scrutiny – and pointed criticism – of his positions and policies in upcoming debates and straw poll maneuvering?
"The takeaway from Florida, that we took away, is that number one, the citizens movement is more powerful than the establishment wants to give me credit for. So yes, they keep treating me like the Rodney Dangerfield of this primary contest," Cain told Fox News Sunday.
"The voters, the people out in the field are saying we want to send a message to Washington, D.C. The establishment is not going to make this call, the people are going to make the call and that's what you saw in the Florida straw poll yesterday," he said.
Most analysts see Saturday’s unscientific Florida poll of 2,657 delegates (party activists who’d paid $175 to participate) as one blip on a long trail of debates and straw polls – and one that mainly was a rebuke of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry, whose three debate performances seem to have gotten progressively worse and some of whose positions have drawn sharp critical response from party conservatives, managed to win just 15 percent of the straw poll tally compared to 37 percent for Cain. The loss was all the more troubling for the Perry camp since the Texas governor and late entry to the race had lobbied hard for delegate votes.
“Perry’s showing in the straw poll was disastrous. He was here, he worked the crowd, and it just proves that the debate performance really undermined his support,” Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, who was at the straw poll in Orlando this weekend, told Politico.com “Perry’s gotta retool, reorganize and retrench very quickly.”
Cain’s principal thrust has been on the economy, mainly his “999 Plan” for tax reform starting with a 25 percent limit on personal and business taxes, then moving to a 9 percent flat tax for businesses and individuals, plus a 9 percent national sales tax.
But he’s also made some controversial statements that may come back to haunt him if his campaign continues to succeed and he comes under greater scrutiny.
He’s called Social Security a “scam,” for example. And he’s had to apologize to Muslim Americans for suggesting that communities could ban mosques.
So far, Cain has yet to take off in national polls. 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
Saturday evening’s straw poll in Michigan probably was even less significant than Florida’s. Not surprisingly, Mitt Romney won in his home state with 51 percent of the 681 votes cast. Perry was second with 17 percent, and Cain came in third with 9 percent. More interesting to political junkies may have been the results to a question about the most attractive possibility for the GOP’s vice presidential nominee: 23 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio, followed by 14 percent for Cain. Some analysts think Rubio – an attractive newcomer to the national political scene – is angling for the VP nod.