Herman Cain handily won the Florida Straw Poll on Saturday with 37 percent of the vote. The margin of victory came as a surprise to many. The Georgia businessman and former Kansas City Federal Reserve Chair has had between four and eight percent of the vote in national polls.
Texas Governor Rick Perry came in a distant second place with 15 percent of the vote, followed closely by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with 14 percent. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had 11 percent of the vote, Texas Congressman Ron Paul had 10 percent, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had 8 percent.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann each placed at the bottom with 2 percent.
Cain has been promoting his “9-9-9” tax plan. It would abolish the current tax code (including payroll taxes) and replace it with a nine percent flat income tax rate for everyone, a nine percent corporate tax rate (currently at 35 percent), and a nine percent federal sales tax.
The 2,657 voters in the Florida 5 Straw Poll were activist Republicans from all over the state who traveled to Orlando for a three-day convention that began with the Fox News/Google Republican presidential debate Thursday night.
The results can be viewed as dissatisfaction with the current field of candidates among Republican activists as much as a victory for Cain.
Perry is the frontrunner, but had a poor performance in Thursday night's debate. Conservatives have criticized Perry for his executive order requiring school girls to receive the HPV vaccine and supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.
Conservatives have criticized Romney for supporting health care reforms in Massachusetts that are similar to President Obama's national health care reforms. They also worry that Romney is too moderate at a time when many conservatives are looking for someone who would be a transformational president.
Fox News Commentator and Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol made this point in a panel discussion on “Fox News Sunday.”
“This is a very big year, 2012, the country is in really deep trouble. Mitt Romney is a technocrat ... does he have the vision? Does he have the boldness to advance the kind of agenda that I, at least, would want?”
This viewpoint may help explain Cain's significant support among activist Republicans in Florida.
“Why is Cain attractive?” Kristol asked. “As he says, scrap the tax code, have some fundamental reform, he's the only one talking on a scale appropriate to the time.”
The previous three Florida straw polls were won by the eventual nominee: Bob Dole in 1995, George H. W. Bush in 1987, and Ronald Reagan in 1979.
The most recent national poll, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, shows Cain with seven percent of the vote. This places him in a four way tie for third place (along with Gingrich, Bachmann and Paul) behind Perry and Romney.