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Republican favourite Rick Perry's White House dreams dealt poll blow

By Stephen Foley

The question of which Republican will face Barack Obama in next year's Presidential election has been blown wide open after grassroots activists dealt a straw-poll defeat to frontrunner Rick Perry.

Mr Perry, the Governor of Texas, looked in danger of becoming the latest contender to see his campaign launch like a rocket only to fall to Earth.

Despite being the only major candidate to have put resources into the straw poll in Florida, he came in a distant second place to the pizza mogul Herman Cain, who topped the poll with 37% to Mr Perry's 15%. Mr Cain's campaign is such a long shot that his strong showing in the Sunshine State poll was the equivalent of a vote for “none of the above”.

Mitt Romney, the former private equity boss and Massachusetts Governor who is Mr Perry's only close rival, gained 14%.

Another straw poll in Michigan yesterday saw Mr Romney win by 51% in his stronghold, to Mr Perry's 17%. Mr Cain was third. The doubts over Mr Perry's campaign accelerated after a dismal performance in the latest television debate, held in Florida last week, when the Texan fumbled over his attacks on Mr Romney and angered the very conservative base that has been hankering for an anti-Romney champion. He conceded his weakness the next day, but tried to brush off his poor showing. “Values and vision |matter,” he said. “It's not who is the slickest candidate or the smoothest debater.”

The Florida straw poll was the culmination of three days of events for the Republican |contenders in a State that counts for 27 of the 538 electoral votes in a Presidential election and is one of the big swing states that can deliver the White House. Mr Romney left the State after the debate, did not compete in the poll and dismissed its result. Mr Perry had chided the other contenders for skipping the event and bought breakfast for hundreds of the activists gathering for the poll.

Mr Cain, who used to run the Godfather's Pizza chain and now has a radio show, wowed the audience with a fiery speech that appealed to the anti-establishment mood.

Mr Perry's defeat raised the possibility that his late-comer campaign could peter out just like other anti-Romney campaigns this year. One poor debate performance was all it took to undermine Tim Pawlenty, a conservative Minnesota Governor, who demurred when given an opportunity to attack Mr Romney's record on healthcare.

what now?

Major donors are continuing to press for a new anti-Romney candidate, with speculation swirling that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might reconsider his refusal to enter the race. A political bruiser,Governor Christie’s blunt rhetorical style would contrast with Mr Romney's slickness. East Coast donors attending fundraisers with the Governor recently have emerged with the feeling that he may reconsider.

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