ORLANDO (CBSMiami/NSF) - Herman Cain, a pizza magnate seen as a minor candidate in a crowded field for the GOP nomination, scored an upset victory Saturday in the Republican Party of Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll, raising questions about the standing of the two front-runners and the bellwether status of the fundraising event.
Cain easily won the straw poll with 37.1 percent of the 2,657 ballots cast. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, viewed as the favorite in the event after riding to the top of opinion polls, came in second with 15.4 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the nationwide favorite before Perry entered the race, took 14 percent of the ballots.
After those three were former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with 10.9 percent; U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, 10.4 percent; former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 8.4 percent; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, 2.3 percent; and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, 1.5 percent.
In a video message to his supporters, Cain reveled in the win.
"Folks, this is what you call momentum. ... The Herman Cain train is picking up steam," he said.
The Perry campaign tried to distance itself from the notion that the loss had hurt the Texas governor's chances of securing Florida and the nomination in the primary fight, pointing out that Perry had been in the race for less than two months.
"This is a devastating loss for Mitt Romney," press secretary Mark Miner said. "He's been running for president for over five years, and he came in third today."
But Romney had long ago announced he would bypass direct competition in the straw poll event, and was one of three GOP candidates -- along with Bachmann and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who was not on the ballot -- who didn't either present a case to the GOP delegates or send a surrogate to do so for him.
Perry, on the other hand, did contest the event, with surrogates including Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon taking to the stage to defend him. And Perry had been pummeled in the press and by conservative pundits for his performance in Friday night's presidential debate and a remark suggesting those who opposed one of his more moderate policies on immigration were heartless.
Even some of Perry's supporters at the straw poll said those debate snags might have hurt his showing.
"I think he's going to have to go back and talk a little more about the immigration issue," said Marion County GOP Chairman Roy Abshier, a Perry backer.
Matt McCary, an Orange Park resident, said Cain had won his support during the straw poll and the primary itself with his showing this weekend.
"The first time I heard Herman Cain speak, that did it for me," he said.
Cain's final, fiery speech, shortly before delegates headed to vote, clearly electrified the crowd.
He drew repeated standing ovations by drawing on the Declaration of Independence -- at one point telling delegates, "We've got some altering and abolishing to do" -- and Ronald Reagan's famously optimistic description of America.
"Let's push that shining city on a hill back up to the top of the hill," he said.
It's unclear whether Cain can transfer the energy of the victory to the ballot box in the state's yet-to-be-scheduled GOP primary. The former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and cancer survivor's only prior run for office was a bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. He finished a distant second to then-Congressman Johnny Isakson in the Republican primary, though he beat out another incumbent congressman in that race.
Bachmann, after all, won the Iowa Straw Poll last month before her last-place showing Saturday.
But party leaders have pushed for weeks the notion that the Florida event often predicts the winner of the nomination. Reagan won the event in 1979, followed by George H.W. Bush in 1987 and Bob Dole in 1995.
"As Florida goes, so goes the nation. And as you go, so goes Florida," Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday, before the results were announced.
Cain's upstart bid could put that theory to the test.
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