Mitt Romney won the first-choice CPAC straw poll with 21%. Rumors floating around the convention hall pegged his spending on the three-day conference at — get this — $350,000. One claim was that people who earlier bought t-shirts from the campaign were offered free rooms at the hotel. I tend to credit these rumors.
A victory is a victory, but 21% is not a great return on $350,000. He finished just four points ahead of Rudy Giuliani — who had a much less overt campaign presence at CPAC — and six ahead of Brownback, who campaigned equally hard at the conference. The composite straw-poll results, which combined the first-choice straw poll with a second-choice straw poll, bore even worse news for Romney. When those second-choice votes were included, Giuliani was the winner with 34%, and Romney was tied for second with Newt Gingrich — a candidate who isn’t even running — at 30% each.
Romney stood to get a boost from the straw poll in three ways. First, by winning the first-choice poll, which he did. Second, by winning with percentage high enough to make him far and away conservatives’ choice over Giuliani. He failed there. Third, if he had put some distance between his performance and Sam Brownback’s, he might have hastened Brownback’s elimination and his own coronation as the darling of the religious right and the anti-Giuliani. There too he failed.
Romeny and Brownback are going to have to duke it out to see who can carry the torch of James Dobson going into the primaries against McCain and Giuliani. Should Romney fail to convince social conservatives, or if he should commit any gaffs before next year, Brownback will have a shot at overtaking him — assuming Brownback can raise enough money to be competitive.
I didn’t catch the numbers for the only candidate I like, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, but I know they weren’t good — low single-digits.