- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2011

LAS VEGAS — The good news continued for Herman Cain on Friday as the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO won the Western Republican Leadership Conference straw poll of GOP presidential contenders, edging out former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — and leaving Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a distant fifth place.

Mr. Cain, whose long-shot campaign got a major boost when he won a major Florida straw poll last month, received nearly 31 percent of the vote, and Mr. Romney pulled in nearly 29 percent of the vote. Mr. Gingrich, who has also risen in recent national polls after his campaign’s shaky start, secured more than 20 percent of the vote. Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished with about 10 percent, Mr. Perry received almost 4 percent, and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota received just 1 percent.

The results follow Mr. Cain’s surprise victory in the so-called Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando, Fla., last month, which was seen as a big blow to Mr. Perry’s front-runner status at the time.

Since then, Mr. Cain, a former businessman and Atlanta radio talk-show host, has surged in the polls, stealing a lot of the conservative and tea party support that helped Mr. Perry leapfrog to the front of the GOP presidential field shortly after he entered the race in August.

Mr. Romney, meanwhile, consistently has stayed near or at the front of the pack in national polls as Mr. Perry has faded.

The victory closed out the four-day Western Republican Leadership Conference, which featured the most intense debate of the Republican race so far here, with Mr. Romney and Mr. Perry trading rhetorical haymakers over their conservative credentials, their respective records on jobs and their stances on immigration. Reflecting his rising prominence, Mr. Cain also came under fire here from his GOP rivals for his “9-9-9” tax reform plan and for his stands on social issues such as abortion.

David Mansdoerfer of Citizen Outreach, the poll sponsor, said the results aren’t surprising. “Herman Cain has spent a lot of time in Nevada, and it shows,” he said. “You can see people reacting to his message about the economy and job creation”

He also said Mr. Romney’s second-place finish reflects the fact that the party sees him as the one candidate who can beat President Obama in a general election.

“At this point, it looks like Romney and Cain are the two to beat in Nevada,” he said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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