In Florida, the straw poll conducted by the Florida Republican Party as the CPAC gathering held court. The results:
Herman Cain - 37.1%
Rick Perry - 15.4%
Mitt Romney - 14%
Ron Paul - 10.4%
Gingrich - 8.4%
Huntsman - 2.3%
Bachmann - 1.5%
Herman Cain was the surprise upset in such a sound victory but the rumblings began immediately following the GOP debate in Orlando on Thursday night. Watching a conversation with a focus group who was there, it was clear that the favorability of Perry was rapidly fading. Perry was thought to be the clear frontrunner in Florida previous to the debate, according to polling data. His poor performance forced those in attendance to reconsider supporting him at this stage.
The straw poll conducted in Michigan by the Republican Leadership Conference brought a different result. Favorite son Mitt Romney won a clear victory.
Mr. Romney is a Michigan native and son of George Romney, who was Michigan’s governor during the 1960′s and is fondly remembered by many Republican party leaders today. Mitt Romney’s business background appeals to many of the state party’s leaders today. The results:
Mitt Romney - 51%
Rick Perry - 17%
Herman Cain - 9%
Ron Paul - 8%
Bachmann - 4%
Gingrich - 4%
Santorum - 3%
Huntsman - 2%
The proof is clear in the numbers for Rick Perry. In order for him to advance as the GOP nominee in the primary, he must become a better debater with a clear, concise message. He stumbled poorly in the Thursday night debate in Florida with answers to questions on key issues. His answers on foreign policy were incoherent, to put it kindly, and he hasn't made clear the real story of his support of the Gardasil vaccine - an admirable position - or on in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants. He must speak of Romney's change of policy opinions in a clear way, too, instead of just attacking at the podium to look aggressive. He has to rise above and present a more confident demeanor.
Perry can pull it off if he focuses and practices debate skills. Maybe. I have lived in Texas throughout his years of governorship and it is common knowledge among political observers that Perry is a poor debater. He hasn't gotten better with age.
For those saying that debates don't matter, I would argue that though a debate performance may not indicate governing skill, it does present a face and voice to the voter who doesn't know a candidate. The average voter doesn't follow politics every day or do much research on the candidates, frankly. Voters have issues of interest and want to hear from the candidates on those issues before picking a favorite. Debates are the only venue if the voter doesn't get out to local forums or town halls available. If you are a voter not in a swing state or in an early primary state, chances are you will have little opportunity to hear a candidate in person, so televised debates serve the purpose of educating voters.
Rick Perry is stumbling. Mitt Romney is experienced at the national level and presents a calm confidence on stage. Herman Cain has the interest of those focusing on fiscal issues as he lays out his perspective as a business man. You may also notice that Cain is always a happy warrior. His smile is contagious and a good contrast to the non-stop bickering of Perry and Romney on stage.
The primary dates are still a long way off, in the world of politics. There is no need for anyone to panic but there are clear messages now being sent by voters to the frontrunners. They must pay attention and adjust their performances accordingly in order to remain competitive.