Straw Poll Shows Several GOP Hopefuls Still in the Mix
Matt Drudge even gave Romney the gigantic above-the-fold headline "ROMNEY WINS STRAW POLL" and paired it with a smiling photo of the former Governor of Massachusetts.
How meaningful was this victory for Romney? It's worth taking a closer look.
In reality, Romney captured 439 votes to the 438 that went to libertarian Republican Congressman Ron Paul. Both men polled 24% of the total, with Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich back a few points at 18% each.
It's worth noting that only paid, credentialed attendees to the 2010 Southern Republican Leadership Conference were permitted to cast a ballot in the straw poll.
In total, nine candidates were included and 1,764 votes were counted on the first ballot.
Mitt Romney - 24% (439)
Ron Paul - 24% (438)
Sarah Palin - 18% (330)
Newt Gingrich - 18% (321)
Mike Huckabee - 4% (80)
Mike Pence - 3% (58)
Tim Pawlenty - 3% (54)
Rick Santorum - 2% (41)
Gary Johnson - 0% (3)
As they say on TV: "But wait! There's more!"
An additional 1,673 people chose to cast a ballot on the second and more telling question: "Who would be your second choice in the Republican Primary Election for president?"
Newt Gingrich - 20% (339)
Sarah Palin - 20% (332)
Mitt Romney - 14% (242)
Mike Huckabee - 11% (178)
Mike Pence - 8% (141)
Rick Santorum - 7% (125)
Tim Pawlenty - 7% (114)
Gary Johnson - 6% (104)
Ron Paul - 6% (98)
The survey questionnaire went on to include four additional questions: resident state, gender, age and who the respondent supported in the 2008 primary. So far, the research firm that conducted the survey has only released the results for the first two questions, so that's all we can examine right now.
As you can see in the numbers above, the top second choice vote-getters were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 19%, followed by Sarah Palin with 18%. Romney scored only 13% on this question and Ron Paul's showing was even worse -- he finished dead last with 5%.
Ron Paul has a loyal following, but he isn't really anyone's second choice. You either love him or you don't.
The presidential primary cycle is a game of momentum and compromise. It involves lots of campaigning, a little bit of voting, some more campaigning and then a whole lot of voting. Candidates wake up one day and realize their odds of winning don't warrant them to continue the fight. Others run and run until they've flat run out of money.
Ultimately, these polls are really just a test of early organization. A Romney-backed group and a Ron Paul group both campaigned heavily and offered discounted tickets to people who would come and vote for their man. Gingrich, Palin and several others addressed the crowd prior to the vote.
The challenge in all of this mess is to be the most acceptable candidate left standing, and clearly Gingrich and Palin qualify in the minds of this weekend's straw pollers.