Final Straw Poll Stirrings: Speak, Santorum!

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 24 2011 4:48 PM

Final Straw Poll Stirrings: Speak, Santorum!

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The six presidential candidates who decided to participate in the Florida straw poll. I watched them. There is no time for regrets, only for analysis that relies on the wisdom of the delegates around me.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Ron Paul -- A state representative does the honors as Paul campaigns elsewhere. This spares the crowd the schizo moments that always come when Paul speaks to GOP events, like the loud cheers/disappointed boos when the man gets to talking foreign policy. Instead of that, we get an extremely dry recitation of the things "the media won't tell you" about Paul. His district is one-quarter Hispanic. It's battered by hurricanes, but he wants to cut FEMA anyway. "He's the only congressman to have won three elections as a non-incumbent." He wraps with a politely received essay on the meaninglessness of party labels. REACTION OF THE DELEGATES NEXT TO ME: "That was a nice speech."

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Herman Cain -- We start with a video documentary about his campaign launch in Atlanta, featuring a peacher telling Cain that God has his blessing. The man himself speaks, and gets seven ovations with lines like "it's time to push that city on the hill back up the hill!" RotDNtM: "He's better than some of the Baptist preachers!"

Rick Santorum -- He spends most of his time talking about his electoral history in great detail. He ran in 1990 against an incumbent "who never got less than 60 percent of the vote." He won in 1992 "with 61 percent of the vote." He "won Pennsylvania by 6 points while George W. Bush was losing it by 5." Tremble in fear of the man who defeated Ron Klink! He closes with a story that he often tells, about a young man telling him that his girlfriend was so inspired by Santorum's floor speech in favor of a partial birth abortion ban that she cancelled her own abortion appointment. RotDNtM: "Oh my god."

Newt Gingrich -- He walks in to "Eye of the Tiger" (as he's done for a while) and says "I want you to be with me, not just for me," as he has for some time. RotDNtM: "He was better at CPAC yesterday."

Jon Huntsman -- An audio-visual spectacular! A video begins, and continues, with images of Ronald Reagan showing leadership, typically by looking like Ronald Reagan. His wife, two daughters, and one son-in-law emerge to introduce... another video. Jeb Bush, JR. repeats Huntsman's talking points, and then Huntsman repeats his talking points. For some reason, the soundtrack is a soft piano melody, like the one Nigel Tifnel wrote in Spinal Tap. His family sit to side of the stage as the videos roll, then return to wave at us. RotDNtM: (laughter)

Rick Perry -- Michael Williams, the Texas railroad commissioner who will be one of the star black Republicans in Congress in 2013 (he's running for a newly created seat), gives Perry an endorsement and is obviously better at explaining the governor's policies than the governor. He is followed by the Michael Bay-esque Lucas Baiano video of Perry, the "American" who can defeat "President Zero." RotDNtM: "Florida is too important to send a surrogate."

The buzz after the speeches: Cain will do better than anyone thinks. "I voted for Cain to influence the vice presidential selection process," says John Jung. Another delegate, Heath Whitaker, says he felt like the only delegate from Pinellas County not voting Cain. There were 94 other delegates.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.