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Rick Perry stumps for votes at Florida straw poll

September 24, 2011|By Paul West
(Paul West/Los Angeles Times )

Reporting from Orlando, Fla. — Comparing himself to Ronald Reagan, GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry promoted the predictive power of Saturday’s straw poll in Florida and criticized rivals who chose to skip the nonbinding competition.

The Texas governor offered a lavish breakfast buffet to all 3,500 delegates at the Florida Republican Party’s daylong convention, being held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Hundreds took him up on the offer, downing scrambled eggs, bacon, bagels and fruit cocktail as Perry worked the room, which was only partially filled.

Later Saturday, after presentations from each of the presidential campaigns—mostly through surrogates, rather than the candidates themselves—the delegates will get to register their preferences.

Most of the GOP contenders, who were in town for a debate Thursday night and a gathering of "tea party" conservatives Friday, have already moved on.  Michele Bachmann, who won last month’s straw ballot in Ames, Iowa, isn’t actively competing for votes today in Florida, nor is Mitt Romney.

At a hotel across from the convention center, Perry spent an hour, starting at 7 a.m., shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for pictures with party activists who took him up on the free breakfast offer. His decision to invest in the straw ballot, in a state where, polls show, he is currently the favorite of Republican voters, is expected to be rewarded with the bragging rights that accompany a victory.

In very brief remarks—lasting no more than eight minutes—the governor assailed rivals who “have spurned this tradition of the Florida straw poll.”

“I think that’s a big mistake,” he continued.  “Ronald Reagan understood how important it was in ’79, and that’s the reason I’m here today.”

Repeating a theme that he’s been emphasizing since a middling debate performance the other night, Perry said his record in 11 years as governor of Texas was more important than rhetorical flourishes.

“What Americans are looking for isn’t the slickest candidate. They’re looking for an authentic, principled leader,” the Texan said.  “You’ve seen what happens when our country chooses words over deeds,” he added. “We get a president like we have today.”

The best-received line was his stump-speech pledge to make Washington, D.C. “as inconsequential in your life as I can,” if elected president.  The applause was rather perfunctory when he concluded, however.

For more on the history and predictive power of Florida’s P5 straw poll—and actual results as soon as they are announced--check back later with Politics Now. Results are expected around 6 p.m. EDT.

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