LOS ANGELES—The major news to come out of the state Republican convention here last night was the latest victory of Ron Paul in a straw vote of presidential favorites. As he has done at the National Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) and other state party conventions, the Texas congressman mobilized followers who share his view of smaller government and a rolled back U.S. foreign policy to swarm the site of the straw vote and win handily.
With 833 activists participating in the vote at the party conclave at the JW Marriott Hotel, Paul drew 44.9% of the vote, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 29%, Mitt Romney with 9%, and Michele Bachmann (who had been the convention’s banquet speaker Friday night) with 8%.
While the poll may reflect the sentiment of activists who swarmed the convention to hear and cheer Paul’s address yesterday afternoon, its results are light years away from the sentiments of registered Republicans in the Golden State who will vote in its presidential primary next June. Two days before the convention vote, a Field Poll showed Romney the presidential favorite of 28% of likely GOP voters in California, followed by Perry with 20%, Sarah Palin 9%, and Paul 7%—meaning the Texan was tied with Newt Gingrich and just edging Bachmann (6%).
The “other story” of presidential maneuvering at the Los Angeles convention is the growing surge behind Perry, who only entered the race weeks ago. His 20% showing in the Field survey is three times what it was in June, when he was only exploring the race.
More significantly, the Texas governor’s embryonic effort has made major strides in winning over support among California GOP leaders. The campaign has already signed on two full-time operatives: Jimmy Camp, former political director of the state Republican Party and most recently manager of Craig Huey’s strong bid in a special U.S. House race in Southern California earlier this year, and veteran GOP fund-raiser Jeff Miller. It was largely due to their efforts that Perry made a strong second-place showing to Paul in the convention straw vote.
“And you’re going to see a stream of elected and party officials coming out for Gov. Perry soon,” Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel told HUMAN EVENTS. Both Steel (who supported Rudy Giuliani in ’08) and wife Michelle Park Steel, state Board of Equalization member and the lone Republican in statewide office in California, had endorsed Perry the week before the convention. In addition, conservative State Assemblyman Dan Logue (who had led a statewide initiative last year to overturn anti-business “green” regulations in California) has not only weighed in for Perry, but signed on several fellow legislators as well as county office-holders to back the Texan.
Perry’s surge comes at a time when Romney, who has strong ties in the business community in California, is having difficulty mobilizing support among political leaders here. Former State GOP Chairman Mike Schroeder, a vigorous Romney backer in ’08, has yet to come out for the former Massachusetts governor in ’12. And where several GOP office-holders had already endorsed Romney at this time four years ago, the Massachusetts man now lags behind Perry in numbers of elected officials supporting him.
(Shawn Steel confirmed to us that he and wife had a private meeting with Romney weeks earlier, and three times, the candidate asked Michelle for her endorsement, and each time she declined.)
“Mitt’s problem has been he’s spending too much time with rich Republicans and not enough time with grassroots Republicans,” said one Orange County party activist who requested anonymity. The same activist recalled to HUMAN EVENTS how he had attended a private event for Romney in Orange County days before the state convention (which he did not attend).
“And at his event were [Irvine Company head] Don Bren and [real estate developer and former U.S. ambassador to Spain] George Argyros,” our source said, referring to two Orange County figures who have long been at dagger’s ends with conservatives. “That said it all.”
Overall, the convention straw vote and the resulting publicity this weekend belonged to Ron Paul. But the political momentum among California Republicans is Rick Perry’s for now.