At last year's CPAC, the sad task of announcing a Ron Paul straw poll win was handled gingerly. Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio mentioned that the result would be unscientific. So did outgoing American Conservative Union chairman David Keene.
Not this year! "We've gotten so many questions about our straw poll!" said ACU Chairman Al Cardenas, running his first CPAC. After a long build-up by pollster Tony Fabrizio, a consultant newly liberated from the S.S. Rick Perry, we learned that the CPAC crowd had voted this way:
Mitt Romney - 38%
Rick Santorm - 31%
Newt Gingrich 15%
Ron Paul - 12%
The reaction was mixed.
Why didn't Ron Paul win for the third year running? Easy: Paul didn't try. The campaign opted not to rent a booth, and bought no tickets for supporters. Neither did Paul's 501(c)3, the Campaign for Liberty. Young Americans for Liberty, Paul's youth group -- which in the past has packed rooms of 400, 500 people to hear Paul or allies speak -- was nowhere at all.
Why did Romney win? There wasn't much visible support for the candidate at CPAC. Earlier in the day, I'd watched a group of Santorum supporters mock a sad, lone Romney supporter for trying to pass out stickers for a "pro-choice" candidate. But the old trope that "signs don't vote" has a convention corallary: The candidate with the hardcores in the lobby doesn't always win. I asked the Romney campaign if it had purchased tickets, or shipped supporters in, a move that would have contravened its previous pledge not to do straw polls. What did they do to win? The answer: "Gave a great speech."