Monday, February 13, 2012

The Repercussions of Rick Santorum's Comments About CPAC Straw Polls

Conservative Republicans held their annual CPAC conference over the weekend, and it was a motley crew of assorted extremist statements, racists, and wackjobs rubbing shoulders with the presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The CPAC also held a straw poll, in which Mitt Romney won by a 38-31 margin over Santorum. Santorum's response to that is particularly enlightening and troubling all at once. Santorum claims that Romney bought the CPAC straw poll win by busing in voters.
“You have to talk to the Romney campaign on how many tickets they bought,” Santorum said on CNN’s “State of the Nation.” “We’ve heard all sorts of things.”

Santorum said it was within the rules for candidates to buy tickets for supporters and cart them in specifically to vote for their chosen candidate.

“We didn’t do that. We don’t do that. I don’t try to rig straw polls,” he said.

Santorum said his primary wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado last week were the true tests of who the GOP electorate wants.

“Our people turned out. We didn’t have to pay them to turn out. . . . They are enthusiastic about our campaign,” Santorum said on CNN.

Team Romney said their candidate won three separate contests on Saturday, besting Santorum 38 to 31 in the conservative CPAC straw poll; placing first in Maine’s caucuses with 39% to Ron Paul’s second-place finish of 36%, and topping CPAC’s national survey of conservative voters.

“Rick Santorum has a history of making statements that aren’t grounded in the truth,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement to the Daily News.
Santorum needs to say and do anything to maintain any kind of momentum. CPAC chose Romney, who has been perceived as being more moderate by the media, and that's a shot at Santorum and the other GOP pretenders that they've got a chance at the nomination.

Did Romney buy votes and/or bus in voters to participate in the straw poll and is this something that candidates regularly do? Well, according to Santorum if the conservatives who showed up voted for Mitt, they were bought.

There is really nothing to substantiate Santorum's comments other than wishful thinking, but it also speaks to just how one shouldn't count straw polls here or even in the races that Santorum won over the prior weekend. They are as much about organization skills as they are about genuine preferences.

If you take the CPAC poll at face value, then there appears to be nothing standing in the way of a Romney nomination. He's got both Santorum and Newt Gingrich beat among conservatives, and he does better among moderates and other demographic sectors than his opponents. It shores up his numbers among conservatives and it becomes a self-fulfilling result; by winning the CPAC straw poll, it convinces other conservatives that voting for Romney is acceptable and palatable despite the protestations to the contrary by Gingrich or Santorum. That, in turn, leads to those conservatives voting for Romney going forward.

However, if the CPAC straw poll was nothing more than a popularity contest, the results of which were determined by who was able to bus in more supporters, then it doesn't particularly address whether there's a real groundswell of support or whether it's a manufactured result in favor of Romney. Why anyone would bother to give the CPAC straw poll any credence if it can be manipulated in such a fashion; but the answer to that is that candidates see the utility of a poll that can be bent to their own will and needs.

Either way, Santorum's sounding like he's got sour grapes and is up against a candidate who does a better job of campaigning than he does.

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