This weekend saw two more non-binding, vaguely predictive GOP straw polls from Florida and Michigan to add to the Ames season opener in Iowa six weeks ago. While these results in no way determine how these states will ultimately vote in their primaries — still months away — they do show a fast-changing Republican field. The biggest news out of the two was Georgia businessman Herman Cain's surprising (and dominant) win in Florida, taking 37 percent of the 2,657 votes cast. Going into the poll in Orlando, Rick Perry — who ended up in second place, with just 15.4 percent of the vote — was considered a favorite, but many delegates mentioned his poor debate performance Thursday, and it seems to have cost him dear. Perry rep Mark Miner quickly tried to play down the results in an interview with Reuters, instead turning attention to Romney's third place finish with 14 percent.
We've been in this race for five weeks. We're going to continue campaigning hard. It's more of what happened to Mitt Romney. He's not going to be crowned president of the United States. He's going to have to work for it. And after five and a half years he once again got rejected in a key state in the Republican primary process."
Seems Miner spoke too soon. Because unlike Cain, who stuck around Orlando to rouse up support, Perry quit town early in the day for Michigan, where he resoundingly lost the second straw poll, again coming in second with a 17 percent vote-share to Mitt Romney's 51 percent. That the son of a three-time ex-governor of Michigan won this poll is little surprise again the big news revolved around Cain, who came in third, with a respectable 9 percent showing. For a candidate who'd been consistently toward the bottom of the ballot in nationwide polls, breaking the top three in both straw polls indicates a change in the winds.
In fact, since he got in the race, Herman Cain has consistently had the highest intensity ratings among Republican-leaning voters, as measured by Gallup, comparable only to Perry (and Bachmann, for a short period before she fell back to earth). What's been holding him back has been name recognition, though he's doubled that number from from 21 percent in March to 50 percent, and is now more well-known than Jon Huntsman.
It's Michele Bachmann who needs to really be worried. She pulled in just 1.5 percent of the vote in Florida, putting her dead last. In Michigan, more people (12 percent) thought she'd make a good vice-president than president (4 percent). Her campaign may still be holding on to her win in Iowa a few weeks ago, but she barely registered on the map here. These events are proxies for enthusiasm, which is one reason why Tim Pawlenty bowed out after his poor showing in Ames. Will Bachmann feel a similar pressure? Unlikely just yet, but this may mark a make-or-break period for her campaign.
Herman Cain Wins Florida Straw Poll [Caucus/NYT]
Cain upsets Perry in Florida Republican Straw Poll [Reuters]
Cain wins big at Florida Straw Poll [NBC]
No Surprise Here, Romney Wins Michigan Straw Poll [Caucus/NYT]
Mitt Romney wins Michigan straw poll, Rick Perry a distant second [WP]