Following Thursday's debate and the Friday-Saturday one-two punch of CPAC Florida and "P5" conventions here in Orlando, Sunshine State Republican delegates finally had their chance to render a verdict on the candidates. The somewhat stunning results were released moments ago:
1. Herman Cain, 37.1%
2. Rick Perry, 15.4%
3. Mitt Romney, 14%
4. Ron Paul, 10.4%
5. Rick Santorum, 10.9%
6. Newt Gingrich, 8.4%
7. Jon Huntsman, 2.3%
8. Michele Bachmann, 1.5%
A few quick takeaways: Herman Cain earned this win with a strong debate showing and two barn-burner speeches that drew multiple standing ovations. The decisive margin of his victory is surprising, though, and should be very worrying for Team Perry. Since the Texas Governor's bad night on Thursday, I've spoken with quite a few rank-and-file activists here who say they're souring on his candidacy. That conservative exodus manifested itself in technicolor with the Cain landslide. Herman Cain will not be the GOP nominee next year, yet nearly four in ten delegates chose him over the (erstwhile?) national frontrunner. That's a rebuke, plain and simple.
The Perry camp is feebly spinning the results as a "devastating loss" for Mitt Romney. Um, sure. Romney's supporters will gloat that this is really an indication that Perry's momentum is cratering, and that conservatives are abandoning him in droves. Very plausible. They also leaked rumors before the vote that they were instructing some of their delegates to back Cain to "skew" the final tally. That sounds rather fishy to me, but they'll at least try to push a "some of our own people backed Cain, yet we still essentially tied Perry, who worked harder down here than we did" narrative. There may be some truth to that, but disaffected Perry voters clearly did not flock to Romney, suggesting that there's still room for a game-changer to enter the race. Could that fuel those pesky Chris Christie rumors -- which Politico revived this morning? You bet.
Also noteworthy: The Bachmann boom has officially gone bust. She is a consummate base-pleasing red meat monger, yet she finished behind Jon Huntsman today. Among conservative activists. Ouch.
UPDATE - Reader 'socalcon' points out that the results blasted out by the Florida Republican Party inverted Ron Paul and Rick Santorum's final placement. Santorum actually finished fourth, and Ron Paul fifth. Paul often does very well at straw polls because his uber-committed followers swarm the events and stuff the ballot box. The way the logistics of this straw poll were arranged (county-by-county delegations, fees, etc) made that tactic harder to pull off, hence his middling finish.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography