Perry flops in Florida (again)

Rick Perry had a credible plan for the weekend. Following a disastrous debate performance in Orlando on Thursday night, and the ensuing blowback from party leaders and activists, the Texas governor needed something to boost confidence in his suddenly-flailing campaign.

That something was the Republican Party of Florida’s “Presidency 5” straw poll. Though officially downplaying its significance, the Perry campaign went all out to win the contest, and hoped to use a victory here to bounce back quickly, starting a new narrative.

Instead, Perry’s P5 failure has had the opposite effect.

Herman Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, won the Florida straw poll [Saturday], defeating second-place Rick Perry after the Texas governor worked the crowd of activists with a breakfast speech Saturday morning.

Mr. Cain won nearly 40 percent of the 2,657 people who voted, more than doubling Mr. Perry’s total and that of Mitt Romney, who came in a close third.

All of the candidates spoke to the crowd of Florida Republicans who gathered here for the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Conservative Political Action Conference meetings.

The usual caveats certainly apply to a contest like this, most notably the fact that it’s a relatively small group of activists who had to pay to participate.

But presidential straw polls tend to have more significance if top-tier candidates give them significance. And in this case, Perry made a real effort to win — he reached out to delegates personally over the course of several days — but got trounced anyway.

The poor showing suggests Perry’s fumbling debate performance carries some consequences. For a Republican establishment unsure if the Texas governor is truly ready for prime time, these two high-profile Florida failures — first the debate, then the straw poll — only serve to strengthen doubts.

Here, by the way, were the official results, as released by the state GOP:

1. Herman Cain, 37.1%
2. Rick Perry, 15.4%
3. Mitt Romney, 14%
4. Rick Santorum, 10.9%
5. Ron Paul, 10.4%
6. Newt Gingrich, 8.4%
7. Jon Huntsman, 2.3%
8. Michele Bachmann, 1.5%

Romney didn’t make much of an effort — he left Florida on early Friday, effectively ceding the straw poll — so his campaign is probably satisfied with a third-place showing. Jon Huntsman has characterized Florida one of his strongest states, though yesterday’s results suggest otherwise.

Bachmann, meanwhile, appears to be moving quickly in the wrong direction.