FRC's Tony Perkins Downplays Straw Poll After Ron Paul's Victory
This weekend's Values Voters Summit brought together GOP presidential hopefuls with social conservatives, also featuring a presidential straw poll.
Going into the weekend, the straw poll was expected to be a harbinger of which candidates conservative Christian activists were backing. The winner, however, was not Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, or Rick Santorum. Instead, libertarian-leaning Ron Paul was this year's surprise winner with 37 percent of the 1,983 votes. (Read Christianity Today's interview with Ron Paul.)
Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins dismissed the results as ballot stuffing. At a press conference following the vote, Perkins said that 600 people registered Saturday, stayed for Ron Paul's speech, voted, and then left. Ron Paul received 732 votes. "You do the math," Perkins said.
Straw polls are rarely representative of voters; they measure campaign's ability to organize. To register for the conference, each participant needed to pay $99. Other campaigns would have also mobilized voters to the confab.
Perkins cautioned reading too much into the results. "Let me just take you back four years to this event, when we had a straw poll. Mitt Romney won that straw poll," he said.
Perkins was not always so down on the VVS straw poll. Just a few days earlier, Perkins touted the poll as an important test of candidate strength in a Washington Times op-ed. He did not cite the winner—Romney–but the "strong finish" by Mike Huckabee.
"The Values Voter Summit will test each candidate's ability to motivate its base to get out and cast a vote in the summit's straw poll," Perkins said. "In 2007, Gov. Mike Huckabee's strong finish at the straw poll helped push him into the top tier of candidates right before a big win at the Iowa caucuses."
Texas Rep. Paul has been reaching out to social conservatives, though many Christian conservative activists consider him part of the libertarian wings of conservatism. When the FRC toured Iowa this summer, Paul was one of the few candidates to not participate in their events. Last year, he was one of only two re-elected GOP congressmen to vote for the elimination of "Don't Ask Don't Tell."
"Most of the GOP candidates are tracking with social conservative issues," Perkins told Politico in June. "I think Ron Paul is the only one with a libertarian bent. Most are sympathetic to and understand of those issues." In August, he said that all the Republican candidates were acceptable to politically conservative evangelicals. Paul, said Perkins, must reach out to social conservatives in order to win.
Cain (24 percent) and Santorum (16 percent) came in second and third, respectively. Bachmann and Perry were further behind, tying with 8 percent of the vote. Values Voters Summit voters appeared more interested in Bachmann as a VP candidate. Ron Paul, Bachmann, Cain, and Marco Rubio each received about 10 percent of the vice presidential straw poll.