Formerly "nominal Republican frontrunner" Mitt Romney can drop nominal from the title.
At a gathering headlined by GOP superstars Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich, Romney took the crown jewel of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and he didn't even bother showing up. He took the victory by single vote over Ron Paul, 439 to 438. Paul had a strong presence of vocal activists at the conference, but it was clear from the voting rank-and-file that his stances of nonintervention and opposition to free-trade agreements were not in line with the party as a whole.
Some Ron Paul supporters were not going to take the narrow loss lying down, threatening to sue over unspecified voting irregularities. (Lawyers shouldn't bother clearing their schedules.) Though Romney was too busy for the conference, his acolytes, Evangelicals for Mitt, worked the crowds this weekend, handing out plastic piggy banks and shaking hands. "I was astonished by how much warmth we felt from people," says Evangelicals for Romney representative Nancy French.
In the end, Romneycare was not an issue delegates at the conference worried about. French attributes this to the manner in which Romney implemented the health care plan as governor of Massachusetts. "It's not perfect, but one thing he did that President Obama did not is balance the budget first." Romney can enjoy this feather in his cap and the fundraisers that follow, and the Republican Party can rest easy that Ron Paul didn't take another straw poll. The idea of two consecutive victories in a row -- Paul won at CPAC earlier this year -- led some in the GOP establishment to consider abolishing the tradition altogether. Third place Sarah Palin, meanwhile, can take some solace in the results. In 2006, John McCain came in third.
--- D.B. Grady is the author of Red Planet Noir.