This weekend, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference met in Memphis, Tennessee. There were lots of speeches and whatnot, but most interesting to me were the results of the straw poll.
The session culminated with a straw poll of delegates, organized by The Hotline, a political newsletter. The results were clouded by a request by Mr. McCain that his supporters cast write-in votes for President Bush, as a show of support for the president.
Mr. Frist won 37 percent of the 1,427 ballots cast, an unsurprising result in his home state: 82 percent of his votes came from Tennessee.
Mr. Romney came in second with 14 percent of the vote.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Allen tied at 10 percent, while Mr. McCain drew 5 percent, Mr. Huckabee 4 percent and Mr. Brownback 1.5 percent.
Very interesting. Should Mitt Romney be encouraged that he managed a second place finish? (And Tennessee is solidly in the Bible Belt, full of the kind of good Christian folk that hate and fear Mormons for a variety of real and imaginary reasons.) Or should he be discouraged because he got only 14% of the vote? I think a case can be made either way.
There were also other things going on here, such as McCain telling "his supporters cast write-in votes for President Bush" as a show of solidarity and support. But even adding the McCain and Bush vote together, you get 15%, which is about what Mitt got. That makes Mitt's showing even more impressive to me.
It was also interesting to see Romney trying out his stump speeches. From what I read of it, he seems to be running as a traditional anti-government, pro-defense Republican:
Mr. Romney's criticism of spending in the past four years drew a wave of applause and captured what has been a subject of increasing unhappiness by this White House. But Mr. Romney tempered that implicit criticism by praising Mr. Bush's record on terrorism. "Thank heavens we have a president who recognizes the extent of this threat," he said. "Thank heavens the president recognizes the greatest ally peace has on this planet is a strong United States."
He has also moved rightwards on social issues like abortion, which means he may not be trying to run as a centrist at all. It's a surprising stance for a guy who is governor of Massachusetts, but Mitt's first problem is getting through the primaries. I still think he hasn't got a chance at the nomination, but perhaps he's got a shot at a cabinet spot or even a VP nod.
Time will tell.