Meanwhile, dozens, maybe hundreds of GOP delegates who came to Orlando intending to support Perry were having second thoughts. They'd all been in the room for the Fox News-Google debate on Thursday night and were dismayed by Perry's performance. Actually, more than dismayed -- some were insulted by Perry's accusation that people who don't support his immigration positions are heartless. Still, they didn't immediately drop the Texas governor, did not immediately say, "That's it -- I'm outta here." Rather, in the 40 hours after the end of the debate, their minds were a little more open than they had been before. And most were specifically a little more open to Cain, who impressed them during the debate and had made a number of impromptu appearances around the hotels adjacent to the Orange County Convention Center.
But even on Saturday, Perry might still have recovered some support with an inspiring speech before the voting. Instead, he headed off to Michigan, and it was Cain who delivered a barn-burner that brought at least seven standing ovations from the delegates. Wavering Perry delegates became Cain voters.
What had happened? In the days before the vote, nearly all the delegates who voted for Cain either said or heard someone else say this: "I love Herman Cain, but he can't get elected." The assumption that Cain can't win the Republican nomination was a serious obstacle in their minds. But at some point late Friday and early Saturday, the delegates overcame that obstacle. Some concluded that since they had heard so many people speak well of Cain, he could indeed win, if everyone who liked him would actually vote for him. Others remained skeptical of Cain's ultimate chances but decided to send the message that they would choose candidates based on conservative principles, and not on perceived electability.
Once the delegates got over the can't-get-elected hurdle, a close contest became a landslide for Herman Cain.
One other factor should not be underestimated. Yes, the delegates liked what Cain had to say. But how he said it was just as important. With his deep, booming voice and a style that any motivational speaker would envy, Cain can give a rousing speech, and he gave several of them during four days in Orlando. No other candidate, frontrunner or back of the pack, could match him. It's not an exaggeration to say that his power as an orator sealed the deal for hundreds of delegates. They believed Cain was speaking to them from the heart, and they were carried away by it. As with the Democratic primary contests of 2007 and 2008, never underestimate the power of a stirring speech.
The Texans’ chins were up, but their public reaction to the initial setback of their man’s six-week-old campaign didn’t pass the straight-face test: they claimed it was actually a setback for Mitt Romney.
Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner, whose candidate led Romney by 9 percentage points in a statewide poll in Florida released just two days earlier, told reporters the straw vote “must be a devastating loss” for Romney and “a morale buster for his campaign in a state like Florida.”