In a bit of a surprise over the weekend, Mitt Romney won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference, picking up 38% of the vote, ahead of Rick Santorum's 31%. Yesterday, the former senator sounded rather annoyed about the results, saying, "I don't try to rig straw polls."
Was this just sour grapes, or does Santorum have a legitimate beef? Jonathan Martin points towards the latter in a report this morning.
Mitt Romney's campaign, in need of a boost following a trio of losses last Tuesday, shelved their "no straw polls" policy and worked to win the CPAC vote.A Republican source confirms to me that Romney's camp bought registrations at CPAC to ensure their victory at the straw poll. There was also a more visible presence. Two young men, one who identified himself as a staffer but declined to talk and another who said he was a volunteer, held up Romney signs Saturday morning near the entrance to the ballroom and urged attendees to vote for the former Massachusetts governor.
The New York Times added that the Romney campaign was "busing students from colleges along the Eastern Seaboard" to help boost his CPAC totals.
When Martin asked the campaign whether it paid for registrations to help influence the straw poll results, a Romney spokesperson "avoided the question."
The larger issue, of course, is why Romney would bother, especially since his campaign has argued for months that straw polls just don't matter. I suspect the answer is that Team Romney saw themselves suffering through a rough week, assumed they'd lose the CPAC straw poll unless they spent some money to change the outcome, and didn't want to deal with another round of stories about how the Republican Party's far-right base just doesn't care for the former governor.