Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Undecided Delegate

The Undecided Delegate

In the aftermath of Herman Cain's stunning victory in the Florida Straw Poll, much has been written and spoken by the so-called “experts” trying to explain this unexpected turn of events. Even though none of these “experts” predicted a Cain win, or even considered it a possibility, they feel uniquely qualified to explain an event they never saw coming. Put another way, the “experts” were caught off guard, blind-sided, and were in need of a quick score. I decided to share my experience in the hope of shining some light on what happened, how it happened, and offer an explanation of why it happened.

I arrived in Orlando September 22nd for the three-day Presidency 5 Convention as an undecided delegate from Pasco County.

*A quick note on how someone could become a voting delegate in the Florida Republican Straw Poll. Each county was allotted a number of delegates based on population. Each county's Executive Committee could appoint, at their discretion, a small percentage of their allotment. The remaining number of delegates were available to all registered Republicans in the county. Anyone interested could sign up and if there were more applicants than there were remaining seats, a lottery was used until the entire allotment of delegates was exhausted. This was unlike other state's straw polls where a candidate's supporters could simply buy a vote in the straw poll.

I watched the previous debates, even attended the CNN/Tea Party Debate a few weeks earlier in Tampa. I wasn't relying solely on the debates to make my decision. I researched the candidates, spoke with family and friends, and was committed to keeping an open mind. I liked some candidates more than others, but liking a candidate is not a reason to vote for them.

The Orlando debate venue was impressive; an estimated 5000 in attendance. FOX News had all the bells and whistles, elaborate graphics, and the best looking panel in television debate history: Bret Baier, Shannon Bream, Chris Wallace, and Megyn Kelly. We've come a long way since Howard K. Smith.

The actual debate was a dud. I concluded that Barack Obama won the first half. A couple candidates did well with glib remarks and by making sense with specific proposals, a couple candidates stumbled badly. The second half was an improvement with more substance, clearer differences, and a couple candidates making my “would not vote for list.” My choices for which candidates performed well did not match the pundits' choice of who won, like judges in a prize fight,  picking the candidate who scored the most points and did the most damage to “their opponent.” Thursday was over except for some post-debate gatherings

Friday was taken up with CPAC and ACU events, opportunities to hear speeches by the candidates and to attend receptions and candidate sponsored meet and greets. By midday, I began to sense (the way animals act before an earthquake) that something was going on. I had written “Undecided” on the back of my CPAC credential, which drew favorable comments from many delegates, but acted as a magnet to staff and 'designated persuaders' of the more aggressive campaigns, those campaigns that had booths at the Convention Center and had teams of volunteers with signs, stickers, buttons and handouts spread out in strategic locations throughout all the venues.

The “must see” events for Friday were the candidates' big speeches, on the big stage, in the big hall. I arrived back at the Convention Center too late to hear all the speeches from the afternoon segment. Herman Cain had just finished speaking. Delegates were exiting the hall. There was a buzz in the air. Something was definitely going on. Every delegate, even those who were supporting other candidates, told me Herman Cain had just blown the roof off the joint. As I spoke to more and more delegates, trying to read just what it was that was going on, it became clear: There was the beginnings of a palatable, authentic, unorchestrated groundswell of support for Herman Cain. This groundswell was fueled mostly by undecided delegates. Some who had previously supported other candidates, and not just Perry or Romney, jumped on the train. A woman who just resigned as a volunteer for one of the so-called front runners told me, “Herman Cain changed my mind with that speech.” Having missed the speech, I spoke with as many delegates as I could, trying to gauge what effect the speech was having on the delegates. I remained undecided, though the more I heard Mr. Cain speak, the more I liked what I heard. The afternoon CPAC events were winding down so I went back to my hotel to get ready for the closing speakers, to be followed by the VIP Reagan Reception, wrapping up the official schedule. No matter where I went, the groundswell of Cain support was evident, and growing.

After the Reagan Reception some of my friends from the Tampa area gathered together to decide where we should go. There was the party at the Ice Bar, some hospitality suites, dinner suggestions, and a few ideas I won't mention thrown in the mix. Then someone said, “I'm going to Herman Cain's Meet & Greet at the Rosen Centre. It's going on now.” The decision was unanimous. Once again, I arrived late. The original room that had been reserved was too small to hold the crowd. A larger room was opened. It was packed. It was overflowing. I was able to hear Mr. Cain speak and people respond. I realized Herman was speaking not to me, but FOR me! It was there and then I decided to cast my vote for Herman Cain. When the event was over, we filed out into the hallway where campaign tables were set up. I held my “Undecided” name tag over my head and loudly declared, “I've decided! Who has a Herman Cain sticker?” They were out of stickers. Several people offered me their Cain buttons. I politely declined, not wanting to take anyone's personal button until a man came up to me wearing several Cain buttons and told me he would be honored if I took one of his. I accepted. Later on that night, back at my hotel, a lady asked me where she could get a Herman Cain button. I gave her mine.

Saturday, September 24th seemed destined to be an
interesting and memorable day. There was the hangover of Friday's excitement and the anticipation of the day's events, culminating with the straw poll vote. There were three things I wanted to accomplish...well, four things, the first was getting a replacement Cain button to cover my “Undecided” name tag. After that, I wanted to take the pulse of the delegates to check the status of the Cain groundswell of support. Next, I wanted to hear all the speeches given by the Republican Presidential candidates. And lastly, to perform my duty as a P5 Delegate and cast my vote for the candidate of my choice.

Even before I left the hotel on my way to the Convention Center, I discovered the Cain Train groundswell was alive and well. Throughout the corridors, the lobbies, restaurants, and coffee shops, people were no longer asking what was going on, they were asking “What do you think about what's going on?” or “Can you believe what's going on?” People were also saying something which gave further evidence the groundswell was growing. Delegates we're talking about messages a couple of campaigns were pushing. Messages that Herman Cain was unelectable or that their candidate was the one and only electable candidate. I'm not sure which is more arrogant. It's to be expected coming from some supporters. After all, they're welcome to their opinions. But I found it very disturbing that, if true, campaign staffers would spread either message. As I discovered later at the Convention Center (still wearing my “Undecided” name tag), it was true. I believe that tactic might have actually hurt their candidate's chances.

It's a cliché, but the atmosphere in and around the Convention Center was charged. I originally thought Mr. Cain could finish a close third in the straw poll. As the afternoon wore on, approaching the time for candidate speeches, it seemed a 2nd place finish might be possible. I believeded if Herman Cain finished 2nd, it would be a huge news story. There were some contentious discussions among delegates regarding Cain's electability. In spite of sporadic, subtle suggestions by party insiders that a vote for a “conservative” frontrunner would have the maximum impact and send the loudest message that Florida would be key to a 2012 victory, Cain supporters stood firm.

I was surprised some candidates did not stay for the straw poll speeches and chose to send surrogates to speak for them. I've always heard elections are won by the folks who show up. I was intrigued by the delegate's reactions as each candidate, or their stand-in spoke. Some supporters would only react when their candidate spoke. Most delegates would cheer and applaud when any candidate delivered a crowd-pleasing line.

There was one candidate who garnered the most enthusiastic responses, was given the most standing ovations, who received the loudest cheers, the longest applause, and brought the most smiles to the faces of those who heard his message. It was a message from his heart that resonated with the hearts of the delegates. It was a message from his mind that resonated with the minds of the delegates. Herman Cain spoke FOR us, not to us. I wouldn't be surprised if, after hearing Cain's speech, some of the delegates who had been waving signs and cheering for other candidates ended up voting for Herman Cain. And then the straw poll speeches were over, the time to vote was at hand.

I did not entertain the possibility Herman Cain would actually win the vote. I was feeling really good and didn't want a 2nd place finish to dampen my spirits. As it turned out, I didn't need to worry about a let down. No one, and I do mean no one, predicted, or even thought it was possible, that Herman Cain would win the Florida Straw Poll in the manner he won: He blew the roof off the joint twice, he overcame being out spent by the so-called frontrunners, he bested campaigns with larger, more established organizations, he lacked the backing of the Republican establishment. And without the support of Florida's Republican insiders, Herman Cain won. He won big. He received more than twice the votes of his nearest challenger. His vote total beat the combined total of the two frontrunners. And all this was done by people who heard his message, appreciated his straight talk, felt his passion, became willing to believe in his solutions, and refused to settle. It was not a protest vote. It was a pro-Cain vote.

People know deep inside what is important to them; what is essential for the country; what will put America's future on the right track. The Cain Train has all that, and more. So why not hop on board. If you don't like the ride or where it's headed, you can always get off.

Roger Whidden

Wesley Chapel, Fl