DENVER — He came, he spoke, he won the straw poll.
Herman Cain showed why he is outperforming more established candidates for the Republican presidential Sunday on his way to topping the field in the Western Conservative Summit straw poll. Mr. Cain captured 48 percent of the vote, far outpacing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who came in second with 13 percent.
The ballot list the names of 14 Republican candidates, both announced and speculative. A total of 508 ballots were cast by conservative activists attending the three-day summit at the Denver Marriott City Center, which was hosted by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University.
In defense of Mr. Perry, it probably wasn't a fair fight. While the governor spoke Friday, Mr. Cain gave his remarks just as attendees were casting their votes Sunday. And if there's one thing Mr. Cain does better than anyone else in the Republican field, it's make a speech.
His speech was so well received that afterward, dozens of audience members lined up for him to sign his new book, "This Is Herman Cain!" — and the book hasn't even come out yet. Instead, Mr. Cain autographed stickers that buyers could later attach to their books.
The conservative crowd was repeatedly on its feet as Mr. Cain, a longtime business executive, delivered his compelling life story and a prescription for America's ills that was heavy on the private sector, light on the government, and long on patriotic vision. All this in a baritone reminiscent of actor Morgan Freeman when he is voicing God.
"Hope and change ain't working," Mr. Cain said in one of his many applause lines. "I think the American people are ready for hope and Cain."
Indeed, Mr. Cain's margin of victory might have been greater. Organizer John Andrews later announced that some early voters had asked whether they could redo their ballots after Mr. Cain spoke.
"I'm hearing that some of you are having buyers' remorse about your straw-poll vote after hearing from Herman Cain," Mr. Andrews said. "In the spirit of Christian compassion, I'm here to tell you, 'tough luck.' "
Political guru Dick Morris wrapped up the event with an encouraging projection for the Republican Party's hopes of ousting President Obama in 2012.
Runaway government spending "is contributing to Obama's defeat. He's revealing himself as a taxer, a spender and a borrower. He's also shown himself to be a weak leader," Mr. Morris said, adding that Mr. Obama's base is losing its enthusiasm, a bad sign for a man who won in 2008 by generating record-breaking turnout from traditional Democratic constituencies such as under-30 and minority voters.
"The left is getting very disenchanted," Mr. Morris said. "We're going to vote against him with our fingers [in the voting booth], they're going to vote against him with their feet."
ProgressNow Colorado issued a statement Sunday criticizing conference speakers for focusing on politics and ignoring key issues like jobs and the economy.
"The conference agenda symbolizes the problem that conservatives have in connecting with real people," Executive Director Kjersten Forseth said. "Jobs, the economy, education, even Social Security and Medicare, are missing from their agenda. Rick Perry and the other conservatives at this summit forgot about America's priorities."
Mr. Andrews countered that many of the speakers had indeed offered economic analysis along with solutions for the nation's bleak jobs picture, and that his critics would know this if they had bothered to attend or watch the proceedings on live stream.
"Speaker after speaker at this summit has targeted domestic issues this year," Mr. Andrews said. "Typically, ProgressNow has slapped out a press release using half-baked information."
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Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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