The Hotline Straw Poll At The Southern Republican Leadership Conference

This week-end in Memphis, there was a much anticipated 2008 straw poll at the Southern Leadership Conference. Here are the results, courtesy of the fine folks at the Hotline (Out of 1311 non-spoiled votes):

Bill Frist: 526
Mitt Romney: 205
George Allen: 147
Pres. Bush (write in): 147
John McCain: 66
Mike Huckabee: 54
Write In (Not GB/CR): 43
George Pataki: 38
Condi Rice (write in): 32
Sam Brownback: 22
Rudy Giuliani: 15
Newt Gingrich: 13
Chuck Hagel: 3

To begin with, don’t be frightened by those big numbers for Frist. This event was in Tennessee and the word was out beforehand that it would be stacked with Frist supporters. That’s why his big numbers don’t mean much.

Another big story was that McCain was encouraging his supporters to select W. as a write in choice as a show of support for the President. This was actually a clever political move by McCain. You see the press has been treating McCain like the 800 pound gorilla on the Republican side, but he’s actually not very popular among Republicans. So, going into this conference, McCain knew he’d probably finish 3rd or 4th. That’s why he latched on to an idea that was already floating around (I received an email asking me to promote the idea on RWN before McCain ever came out publicly, but decided not to do so), encouraging his supporters to vote for Bush. That makes him appear magnanimous (Oh look, he’s sticking up for Bush!) and helps mask his unpopularity among the sort of people who’ll actually be voting in the Republican primaries.

There were two surprises, however.

The first was that Mitt Romney actually beat out George Allen and came in 2nd. Does that mean Romney is actually a contender to watch? Nah. The deck was stacked for Romney, too.

Plus, he was also undoubtedly helped by the fact that he’s gotten a lot of positive press lately and by the fact that the perfect candidate in a lot of people’s eyes would be a non-Southern Governor. Governors don’t have that “Washington Insider” taint on them, so that’s a plus. Also, since the GOP has done so well in the South during the last two elections, a governor from outside the region could probably still carry all the Southern states and might have an easier time pulling votes from the rest of the US than a Southerner would. (Incidentally, this is why Tim Pawlenty, a governor of Minnesota, might turn out to be a solid candidate if he wins reelection in 2006 and enters the race. Here’s a conservative, northern Republican who has done well in a left-leaning state. He’d probably have a good shot at carrying the South, but it’s also entirely possible that he could deliver Minnesota (10 electoral votes) and neighboring Wisconsin (10 electoral votes), two states that went for Kerry in 2004. Once a few more governors get into the race, Romney will start to fade into the background except in the mainstream media, where they’ll continue to try to push him because he’s not one of the more conservative candidates.

The other really interesting thing about the poll was that Rudi Giuliani, who is generally talked about as a top tier candidate, completely bombed out. There were 1311 “non-spoiled” ballots cast and Giuliani only got 15 of them. Republicans may appreciate the great job Rudi did after 9/11 and they may even like him because he has charisma to spare, but apparently they don’t think much of the idea of having him as our candidate in 2008. If Rudi’s doing this poorly today, despite his enormous name recognition and all the good will he built up campaigning for Bush in 2004, it’s hard to see how he can turn things around and snag the nomination in 2008.

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