Dr. Ben Carson won the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City. The retired neurosurgeon grabbed the spotlight when he was the featured speaker at the Oklahoma Republican Party gala Friday night, and was indeed impressive. Newsweek credited the victory to the retired brain surgeon’s soothing tone and inspiring “rags to riches” story. I agree, in part.
If you heard Carson speak, and there were hundreds at the gala, there is something refreshing about his style. He reminds me of another doctor, retired U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. He’s direct and has a conversational style that appears to come from his own brain instead that of a speech writer.
I suspect there are other factors in his victory:
1. Carson’s campaign reportedly purchased a hefty batch of tickets, and brought their own people to the conference. It may have played a factor, but doubtful it was the only reason he won. While some may criticize straw polls because of how easily manipulated they can be, it can still suggest an enthusiastic campaign’s ability to organize or at least pay for a victory here or there.
2. Carson also benefited when frontrunners U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were unable to attend the conference due to their day jobs. The U.S. Senate was in session, and they dare not miss a vote on a conservative issue. Cruz had been scheduled to be the featured speaker at the gala, and his dad instead filled in with an inspiring speech of his own. Still, for we convention-goers, there’s nothing like meeting and hearing the candidate in the flesh.
3. Most of the presidential campaigns put forth little effort to win the straw poll, saving their resources for later. Carson’s people worked the crowd, encouraging favorable observers such as myself to cast a vote. After I complimented Carson to one of his workers, she begged me to spend $75 to get registered so that I could participate. There’s something to be said for working a crowd when competing in a straw poll.
4. Dr. Carson is different than the other politicians in the race. Carson is a straight-talking doctor who has never held public office, and most likely, is the smartest person in the room when he speaks. It’s refreshing for those of us with lower IQs to hear an intellectual’s endorsement of conservative policies. And, it’s worth noting that the doctor is an African-American in a party that is starved for diversity.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finished second after an inspiring speech, which I unfortunately missed, earlier during the conference and actually won among Oklahomans. Cruz finished third in spite of his absence.
The Newsweek analysis of Carson and the conference is worth the read. Straw polls taken at a gathering can be fun to watch, and a pageant for those who care the most, or it can help a lower-tier candidate gain a little attention with the prayer of gaining national attention. http://tinyurl.com/mcnjcf7h
But straw polls are seldom a predictor of who wins in the end.