MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he isn’t competing in any straw polls — not even the one this weekend on the island where he spent summers as a boy, where pictures of his father adorn the Grand Hotel and where George Romney’s legacy as a popular governor hung over the proceedings.
To say Romney was the heavy favorite at the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference would be an understatement. And he did not disappoint, winning the straw poll with 51 percent of the 681 votes cast. His top rival for the nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, finished second with 17 percent.
For Romney, the victory was especially sweet considering that Perry flew here — a remote island on Lake Huron, accessible only by ferry and where visitors ride bicycles or horse-drawn carriages because automobiles are banned — to deliver a luncheon speech Saturday to conference attendees. Romney was here, too, and gave his speech during Saturday night’s dinner program.
Former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive Herman Cain, who won the Florida straw poll Saturday, finished third in Michigan with 9 percent, according to the results announced Sunday morning. He was followed by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) with 8 percent; Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), 4 percent; former House speaker Newt Gingrich, 4 percent; former senator Rick Santorum, 3 percent; and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., 2 percent.
The straw poll, organized and sponsored by National Journal Hotline and the National Association of Home Builders, surveyed the party leaders, donors and activists who attended this weekend’s conference.
The poll also surveyed voters’ favorites to be the GOP vice presidential nominee. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) easily won, with 23 percent of the 481 votes cast in that category. Cain finished second with 14 percent, followed by Gingrich with 13 percent and Bachmann with 12 percent.
The straw poll is hardly a scientific study of voter attitudes here in Michigan, which is likely to hold one of the earlier primaries next year. But it is an indicator of the feelings among the party establishment. The voter pool here seemed more pragmatic than hard-line conservative, as half of those surveyed said they would be willing to support a candidate who would get the economy moving, even if he or she veered from Republican orthodoxy by supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Nearly 80 percent said the tea party would help Republicans in the 2012 elections. Nearly 20 percent of voters held a negative view of the tea party, and 17 percent said they believed the tea party movement could alienate independent voters.