- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Washington Times/Conservative Leadership Conference weekend straw poll shows why the perfect storm may be brewing for the right Republican presidential wannabe next year.

On Friday, the government released more ugly employment news, and on Saturday the poll of conservative activists assembled for a conference in Henderson, Nev., shoved three experienced job creators to the top of the heap among the dozen or so declared and possible 2012 GOP presidential-nomination contenders.

Declared candidate Herman Cain won 24 percent of the Nevada conservative activists’ vote, followed by Mitt Romney’s 21 percent and Rick Perry’s unexpected 17 percent, which put the Texas governor - who has not said if he will seek the 2012 nomination - in third.

Despite her surging popularity among Republicans nationally, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a declared nomination hopeful and another favorite among conservatives, placed fourth with 16 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas - a hero of “tell the government to let me alone” voters - was fifth with 8 percent.

CLC President Chuck Muth told The Washington Times that one reason for the surprising results was Friday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report that showed unemployment rising to 9.2 percent for June, with downward revisions in the job-creation numbers that the BLS had earlier reported for April and May.

In the poll announced on Saturday, it was job creators who won the day: Mr. Cain, the erstwhile business leader with a string of corporate management successes on his resume; Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who had mounted what for a time looked like an undefeatable 2008 GOP presidential nomination run; and Mr. Perry, the longest-serving elected governor in Texas history.

Mr. Perry outpolled a field of better-known, far glitzier GOP stars such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mrs. Bachmann and former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

The three men at the top of the Nevada poll boast glowing records of producing jobs and securing jobs on their respective watches.

As a CEO, Mr. Cain turned around the Godfather’s pizza chain.

Mr. Romney rescued not only the financially drowning venture capital firm of Bain & Company but also the deeply troubled 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics - saving Americans international embarrassment.

For Mr. Perry, the drill-now advocate and chief executive of a leading oil-and-gas state, the planets could hardly be aligned better.

According to the BLS, since the current weak - barely breathing, critics say - recovery began in June 2009, Texas has outpaced every other state in job creation, adding 250,300 net jobs, with New York running a distant second at 98,200 net new jobs.

Texas’ governmental structure does not accord much power to its chief executive, but whether Mr. Perry deserves the credit or not, political analysts generally agree that his supporters have an appealing case to make to voters, especially if unemployment is still running high, along with gasoline and food prices.

Pollsters say the value of a straw poll is as a measure of a candidate’s organizational skills.

“From the point of view of science, straw polls are meaningless,” said veteran pollster John Zogby. “But they do have value in that they display a candidate’s ability to spend resources wisely and organizational effectiveness. They also reveal the degree of passionate support for the candidate.”

The Nevada poll may underplay the strength of Mr. Romney, who continues to look like the real powerhouse in the field at the moment. He leads the pack of GOP hopefuls by 13.7 percentage points in a Real Clear Politics average of the latest major national polls.

More than 200 conservatives attended the conference.

Nevadans supported President Obama by 12.5 points in 2008, but Mr. Muth said 2012 would be different.

“The results of today’s straw poll give us a strong indication of the direction that conservatives are heading,” Mr. Muth said. “In 2010, we elected more conservatives to the state legislature than in previous years - an indication that the conservative movement throughout the state is growing.”

“As the 2012 election draws closer, I believe that we’ll see the true conservative candidates pull ahead and lead those who only “lean” conservative when the wind blows,” he said.

Mr. Muth noted that Mr. Cain was one of the candidates who personally addressed the weekend conference and who has campaigned extensively in the state, which is expected to be among the first four to hold presidential preference caucuses or primaries this winter, probably in February.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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