The weekend groaned with those kinds of messy gear changes. More than one speaker asked delegates to ignore the 2008 hype and focus on the 2006 elections, just before introducing one of the 2008 candidates who had come to Memphis to speak, rally activists, and do well in the straw poll in the hopes of improving their presidential prospects.
The outcome of that poll was as hard to read as the rest of the conference. Local favorite Bill Frist won with 36 percent, but got very little support outside of his state. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in second with 15 percent of the vote, which was surprising for a Yankee. It may not have been a genuine groundswell. In addition to the voters I talked to who were impressed by the governor, I found a few others who said he wasn't their first pick but who voted for him anyway because his supporters had paid for their hotel room for the weekend. McCain, the front-runner, came in fifth, but he'd told voters to cast their ballots for Bush, which is why the president came in third with 10 percent. They all came to Memphis but nobody left as king.