ORLANDO, Fla. – Herman Cain won the Florida straw poll Saturday, rounding out three days of Republican Party and presidential campaign events. Cain won first place with 37.1 percent of the nearly 3,000 votes cast, more than double the second-place finisher’s tally.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, an early favorite, came in a devastating second, with about 15 percent of the vote, after raising expectations. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came in third with 14 percent.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum followed with 10.9 percent, then Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 10.4 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 8.4 percent, and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman at 2.3 percent.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann rounded out the bottom with 1.51 percent.
Perry was the presumed winner during the days preceding the straw poll, but Cain swiftly gained ground, relentlessly covering the convention center with volunteers, supporters and campaign signs.
On Saturday, the Cain paraphenalia was only rivaled by that of Santorum’s campaign.
Romney’s third-place finish came largely as a surprise. His name was still on the ballot although he did not actively compete in the straw poll or send a surrogate to stump in the hours preceding the vote.
Perry had a disappointing showing at Thursday night’s Fox News debate, and he took heat for his stance on immigration and for his inability to drive home his challenges to Romney.
Teresa Valdez, a delegate from Port Orange who voted for Santorum, told The Daily Caller she couldn’t support Perry because of his weakness on immigration.
Even Perry supporters admitted their candidate underperformed at the debate. Perry volunteer Vicki Maddox of Tampa is one of them, although she defended his economic record when talking to TheDC.
But at a breakfast event in Orlando Saturday morning, Perry took a subtle jab at Romney and the other candidates who did not campaign for the straw poll.
“I think that’s a big mistake,” he said. “I think the Florida straw poll is very important.”
Still, Perry only narrowly edged out a second-place finish over Romney, who said early on that his campaign would not be participating in straw polls.
Rep. Bachmann’s last-place finish was a blow to a flailing campaign. But in August, she too, confused Florida Republicans by announcing she wouldn’t actively campaign in the straw poll.
At the time, Florida Republican Party communications director Brian Hughes told The Daily Caller it was a “bad move.”
“The path to the White House goes through Florida,” Hughes said.