Mitt Romney narrowly won the CPAC straw poll, but he did so mainly on the strength of ballots cast before his withdrawal. The final results took a back seat to the story told by the shift in voting after the first day’s events:
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney narrowly beat John McCain, 35 to 34 percent, in a straw poll of conservative political activists gathered Saturday in Washington — a vote that is viewed as a barometer of support from that major GOP voting bloc. …
Roughly one-quarter of the votes in the three-day CPAC 2008 straw poll were cast before Mitt Romney dropped out of the presidential race, and three-quarters after his withdrawal.
In votes cast before Romney left the race, he beat McCain 44 to 27 percent. Among votes gathered after Romney’s withdrawal, McCain led Romney 37 to 32 percent.
I cast my vote on Friday, and I cast it for John McCain. A number of Romney supporters did the same, apparently, and it mirrors to a large degree the dynamic we saw on the CPAC floor throughout the three-day event. Romney remained popular with the conservative activists despite his withdrawal from the race (technically a “suspension”), and perhaps even increased the affection in the manner of his capitulation on Thursday. Still, many here have begun to make the necessary shift in focus from candidate advocacy to coalition building, and that process will continue.
I am somewhat surprised that Mike Huckabee did not do well after Romney’s withdrawal. There was a little bit of buzz here that some support might swing to Huckabee from Romney in order to oppose McCain, and on Saturday a number of Huckabee supporters arrived for his speech. Either they did not vote in the straw poll or didn’t move the needle in the overall tally, which reflects the mistrust that attendees have with Huckabee’s economic populism.
The next few weeks will allow for a period of sorting out the emotions that came into CPAC. Many here feel very concerned that a coalition split will damage the agenda all the way down the line. The final panel at CPAC warned of just such a result and pointed to the poor showing thus far in the primaries as an indicator of that danger. They emphasized that all of the factions in the Republican coalition need to help each other and combine to push the broadest conservative agenda possible, and that they need to interlock in order to wield power effectively.
Is John McCain the man to lead such a diverse but interlocked coalition of conservative factions? If he can build the proper team for a general election campaign, he might be. We’ll see who he selects as his advisers and potential Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officers in the next administration. That will speak to his ability to forge an alliance that can not only win a presidential election, but also generate the coattails necessary to give him some strength in Congress.
I hope you have enjoyed my coverage of CPAC as much as I have enjoyed covering the conference. It is an exhausting task, but one of the most fulfilling events on the calendar. We have a number of great podcasts at BlogTalkRadio’s CPAC Channel, which you can access by clicking on the logo below. If you enjoyed what you’ve read and heard and want to help defray a few personal expenses, feel free to hit my tipjar on the sidebar — anything would be appreciated.
Today is a travel day, but I’ll be back to my normal schedule on Monday. Thank you for your readership, and thanks to everyone on Blogger Row and the friends we met who read and support us.