Herman Cain jumped from the bottom tier of the 2012 Republican field to the top of the Florida GOP's Presidency 5 straw poll on Saturday, delivering a shocking blow to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's frontrunner status. Adding to Perry's troubles, his closest rival, Mitt Romney, won a similar straw poll in Michigan. But it was Cain's Sunshine State landslide — he captured the ballots of 37 percent of the 2,657 Republican activists who voted, more than Perry and Romney combined — that truly obliterated expectations. "The Herman Cain train is picking up steam," said Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO. What does his victory really mean? Here, four theories:
1. Perry's candidacy is imperiled
"Frontrunner Rick Perry is in deep trouble," says Marc Caputo at The Miami Herald. The Texas governor was badly damaged by his poor performance in the pre-poll debate, in which he "fumbled answers and failed to give specifics." And even when Perry was clear — on his "moderate immigration position" and his opposition to the "Ponzi scheme" of Social Security — Perry left Florida Republicans even more dissatisfied. That caused many GOP activists to flee to Cain. Of course, many Cain voters doubt their guy will be the nominee. But they clearly aren't sold on Perry, either.
2. It's unwise to count out a conservative like Cain
Before the vote, the conventional wisdom was that Cain couldn't get elected, says Byron York at the Washington Examiner. But his rousing speeches have changed everything. The message here is that a passionate defense of conservative principles can get candidates over the "can't-get-elected hurdle" in 2012.
3. Republicans have no idea what they want
The GOP faithful have, in turn, embraced Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and now Herman Cain, says John Baer at the Philadelphia Daily News. They clearly have no clue what they really want, except that their nominee needs to be "patriotic, loud, angry, or maybe a little crazy" — and as ideologically opposed to Obama as possible. "Watching Republicans stagger through their candidate-selection process is like watching kids at a birthday party play Pin the Tail on the Donkey. They're blindfolded, so you never know where the pin gets stuck."
4. Straw polls are meaningless
Republicans have now had five straw polls, say Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post, and a different candidate has won every one (Michigan: Mitt Romney; Pennsylvania: Rick Santorum; California: Ron Paul; Iowa: Bachmann; and Florida: Cain). You can't read much into these contests. Iowa's Ames Straw Poll is supposed to be a good indicator of early campaign strength, but the win appears to have been Bachmann's high point. And "while Cain's victory in Florida was a nice moment for his campaign — and will absolutely help him raise money" — it's unlikely that he'll follow in the footsteps of the last four winners of the Florida poll and win the GOP nod.