Frist Wins Hotline Straw Poll

Hotline conducted a straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. The results are somewhat surprising:

After five hours of voting and with more than 1,400 ballots cast, The Hotline SRLC Straw Poll has come to a close with a tremendous turnout. Sen. Bill Frist (TN) led the pack with nearly 37% of the vote, followed by MA Gov. Mitt Romney with 14%. Sen. George Allen (VA) was tied for third place with Pres. Bush (10%), despite Bush being a write-in candidate.


Among the 526 voters who made Frist their top choice, Allen was the leading second-place vote getter with 18.4%. He was followed by Romney (12%), ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (10.8%), John McCain (10.6%), Bush (7.0%) and AR Gov. Mike Huckabee (3.4%). Nearly one in four Frist voters, though, indicated no second-place preference.

With more than a 66% increase in voter turnout from the ’98 SRLC straw poll, these results set the stage for the GOP WH battle that lies ahead. Stay tuned to The Hotline and On Call throughout the week for continued results, methodological notes and insider analysis.

So, the nomination is Bill Frist’s to lose and John McCain is toast, right? And, despite all the worries about the “Mormon problem,” especially among evangelicals, Mitt Romney is in pretty good shape, right?

Well, no. This is a straw poll. They might be a little fun but they’re not worth their weight in straw. As Steven Tayor is fond of pointing out, Alan Keyes won one of these in Alabama in the last cycle. Shockingly, he did not win the nomination or, indeed, even do well in Alabama.

How could Frist, whose stock has actually declined since he took over as Majority Leader, have done so well? Here is a clue:

Total TN voters: 742 (52%)

Number of Frist’s votes outside TN: 97

So, more than half the voters are from Frist’s home state? And of 685 non-Tennessee ballots cast, Frist only got 14 percent? Somehow, I don’t think this is very instructive of how the 2008 primaries will shake out.

NYT’s Adam Nagourney covers the convention itself, noting that the audience “listened as a parade of prospective presidential candidates wrestled with how much to associate their campaigns with an increasingly unpopular sitting president.” This may explain why Romney did so well with them:

[I]n a hint of one way that this next generation of Republican presidential contenders is likely to diverge from the president, Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, went from heralding Mr. Bush’s record on terrorism to embracing conservative concern about the growth of the size of government in his tenure. “We are spending too much money,” Mr. Romney said. “Our discretionary spending — taking out Iraq and mandatory spending — grew 49 percent in four years. Our debt has grown. Pork is always dispiriting. But pork being spent at a time of war is particularly dispiriting.”


Mr. Romney’s criticism of spending in the past four years drew a wave of applause and captured what has been a subject of increasing unhappiness by this White House. But Mr. Romney tempered that implicit criticism by praising Mr. Bush’s record on terrorism. “Thank heavens we have a president who recognizes the extent of this threat,” he said. “Thank heavens the president recognizes the greatest ally peace has on this planet is a strong United States.”

The problem with that is that, while the type of conservative who rabidly interested in a presidential election two and a half years from now might be passionate about cutting spending, most Americans are only supportive of fiscal responsibility in the abstract. There is precious little appetite for cutting actual programs. Even those that benefit a precious few (farm subsidies and the like) have strong lobbies who are much more organized than those who might be nominally opposed.

As to the straw poll, “The results were clouded by a request by Mr. McCain that his supporters cast write-in votes for President Bush, as a show of support for the president.”

MSNBC’s Tom Curry adds, “The shocker of the evening was that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney placed second, besting far better-known rivals Arizona Sen. John McCain and Virginia Sen. George Allen. Romney finished with 14 percent of the vote.” But, as noted, McCain asked that his supporters write in “George W. Bush.” Explaining Allen’s poor showing is another matter, but there is no data on the number of Virginia delegates at the convention. Aside from the fact that over half the delegates were from Tennessee, we do know that “Most of the attendees are from the South, but some came from as far away as Iowa and Ohio.”

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    Anyone who voted for Frist should read and study the “Bill Frist Motto”

    Play Ball With Me and I Will Shove The Bat Up Your A**

  2. Eneils Bailey says:

    This early in the game, does it mean anything? YAWN.
    If I had been there, Harold Stassen would have been my pick.

  3. just me says:

    Frist hasn’t been able to lead the senate, do you think I am going to trust him to lead the country?

  4. McGehee says:

    This is about as predictive of who will be the nominee, when there’s no incumbent in the race, as … the Iowa caucuses.

  5. Jeff says:

    Straw polls have been gamed to the point that the artform of it is taught at conservative leadership schools like the Leadership Institute’s YLS.

  6. G A Phillips says:

    Rice/Rummy 2008!