Herman Cain was the last candidate slated to speak at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, last Sunday morning. The conference, which had been going on since Friday, was scheduled to wrap up shortly afterward. Many of the approximately 1,000 attendees had already voted in the straw poll of presidential candidates.
Rick Perry and Rick Santorum had delivered rousing speeches. Former Colorado GOP congressman Bob Beauprez, representing Mitt Romney, had also spoken. Now it was Cain’s turn.
“Cain gave just a barn-burner of a speech,” says John Andrews, director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, which organized the conference. “A lot of people told me they never dreamed of marking in their straw-poll ballot for Cain before they heard this speech.”
Perry and Santorum had received standing ovations. Cain’s speech drew an even more enthusiastic response: Twice, the crowd stood up in the middle of his speech, applauding wildly.
After the speech, some who had voted for another candidate pleaded to receive their ballots back so they could switch their vote to Cain. “We had people storming the information desk,” Andrews recalls. Ultimately, event organizers decided that attendees would not be allowed to switch their votes.
Nevertheless, Cain decisively won the straw poll, receiving 48 percent of the votes cast. Perry came in second, with 13 percent of the votes. Romney and Santorum tied at 10 percent, and tea-party favorite Michele Bachmann won 9 percent.
Andrews attributes Cain’s win to “a combination of his gifts as a speaker, his luck in the timing, [and] his ability to perfectly read the tea-party mood of the crowd.” The Cain campaign arrived on Sunday morning, shortly before the speech. Because the Cain team had no staff available to attend the full conference in Colorado, Denver county Republicans agreed to pass out Cain materials during the conference. In other words, there was no behind-the-scenes campaign organization pushing conference attendees to vote for Cain.
For Cain, this straw-poll win was just another to add to his impressive record. Starting with his surprise win over Sarah Palin in RedState.com’s presidential-primary bracket, the Godfather’s Pizza mogul has proven to be the king of winning the straw-poll votes of conservative activists. In February, he won among attendees at the Tea Party Patriots’ conference in Arizona. (Ron Paul won among online voters.) In March, Cain triumphed at Republican congressman Steve King’s Conservative Principles Conference held in Iowa, and in July, he won at the Conservative Leadership Conference in Nevada. Along the way, Cain has racked up victories at straw polls held at state and local Republican gatherings in Wisconsin, Hawaii, Washington, and Georgia. It’s no wonder that the Cain campaign needs a spreadsheet to organize Cain’s straw-poll victories.