“Religious Right Divides Its Vote at Summit” was the headline of the New York Times article on the Values Voter Summit, and indeed, Mitt Romney only edged out Mike Huckabee by a few votes in the straw poll, 1595 to 1565, with other candidates trailing significantly. But that headline had to be a real disappointment for Huckabee boosters, dreaming of pushing him up from the second-tier, who believe that official tally is illegitimate because it allowed FRC members to vote online. Among actual conference-goers, Huckabee, the crowd favorite, walked away with a majority vote, besting Romney 488-99.
Janet Folger, who endorsed Huckabee soon after he won the straw poll at her Values Voter Debate, accused Romney of “ballot-box stuffing”:
Efforts to try and skew the results of the Internet poll, such as the e-mail sent by Mark DeMoss (now on the Romney campaign), complete with a link and instructions to stack it, gained Romney a .5 percent edge for his prominently announced “win.” By the way, when that announcement was made following fanfare, including a drum roll, the audience (who were 5-to-1 Huckabee supporters) sat stunned. Had they announced the results of the real grass-roots activists who actually attended the event, we would have heard explosive applause instead of the sound of crickets and the clapping of a few Romney shills.
A harsh allegation, to be sure, but hardly out of character: Romney managed to win the CPAC straw poll last spring solely on the basis of students he sponsored, and he similarly paid for votes at the straw poll in South Carolina. After announcing that he was scaling back his efforts at the Ames, Iowa straw poll, Romney’s campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the best tent and the most buses to ferry Republicans to the event, presumably with their tickets paid in exchange for a vote commitment (as is common at Ames). Considering that membership to FRC Action and the code to vote in that straw poll could be purchased for a $1 donation, this latest effort was a steal. Then there’s money Romney pays to prominent right-wing figures, such as $25,000 to a company owned by Jay Sekulow, who endorsed Romney.
Alabama activist Randy Brinson, head of the state’s reconstituted Christian Coalition chapter as well as a voter mobilization effort and an ally of Huckabee, thinks it’s that kind of cash that keeps people like Tony Perkins pooh-poohing Huckabee’s prospects. From U.S. News:
[Brinson] says he believes that “gatekeepers” like Bauer, Perkins, and Dobson are more interested in Romney or Thompson because their campaigns have money to pay for consultants from the big conservative evangelical organizations, ensuring them access to the White House if either of them wins.