The CPAC Straw Poll results are in, and the campaigns have already started spinning the results. Here are three things to keep in mind:
1. Some people will tell you that Mitt Romney didn't deserve to win (because he bussed in College Republicans to vote for him). That's like saying George W. Bush didn't deserve to win because he raised more money than his opponent. Romney's ability to organize, inspire, and transport college students to the conference is precisely why he did deserve to win! A campaign that has the organizational ability to bus in college students has the organizational ability to do a lot of other things, too. The rules allow for it, so what's wrong with Romney doing what he has to do (within the rules) to win?
2. Some people will tell you that Rudy was the biggest winner of the day. I think he did well, but I also think he greatly benefited from McCain's failure to show. In a sense, a vote for Rudy was a protest vote against McCain. At the very least, people could say: "I don't agree with him on every issue, and he knows it, but he at least had the guts to come talk to us." My guess is that some conservatives rewarded Rudy (for showing up) with their vote. But rewarding someone with a straw poll vote, and voting for him (for real) is a different story. I don't want to take anything away from his accomplishment -- coming into this audience and taking second place is a big step. Still, John McCain came in second last year, and wasn't able to translate that into conservative support. Will Rudy's second-place finish yield him better results? That is the huge question of the day.
3. Some people are saying that Jim Gilmore did poorly because voters rejected the tone of his speech. Likewise, some bloggers are surprised that Newt (a conservative icon) didn't perform as well as Rudy. While it is true that neither Gilmore nor Newt Gingrich performed as well as they might have, it would be wrong to conclude that either performance had anything to do with their speeches. The vast majority of voters cast their votes on Thursday or Friday, while Newt and Gilmore didn't speak until Saturday.
Philip Klein of The American Spectator has a good summary, as well.