Romney Tries To Pack A Straw Poll But Thompson's Stock Is Rising

The Young Republican National Federation's annual convention ends tonight in Ft. Lauderdale with the announcement of its straw poll results -- a poll that, in all likelihood, Mitt Romney will win, and then use to tout as an example of how Young Republicans are enthusiastic about his campaign.

But Romney had a few legs up. For one thing, the Young Republican's executive director, Jon Woodward, is the St. John's County chair for Romney. The convention's chief organizer is Brian Graham, who is also a Romney backer. Romney's campaign helped to sponsor tonight's dinner. And the YRNF convention corporation, according to Erick Erickson at RedState, decided for some reason to allow non YRers to vote in the straw poll. That allows organized and well-monied campaigns to bring in supporters, so they should choose.

The perception among YRs I've been corresponding with tonight is that Romney is trying to pack the straw poll. Maybe it's not true. But that's what these YRers believe.

One real, dues-paying Young Republican e-mailed to note that his identification was not checked when he cast his ballot. Another noticed that reams of Romney supporters, many of them not terribly young, had "flooded" the convention on Saturday. One delegate -- Neil Miller of Virginia -- wrote a resolution urging the bifurcaton of straw poll results into credentialed convention attendees and visitors, but for some reason he decided not to present it to the convention, and it died without being born. It would not have been binding; the convention operates as a separate legal entity from the YRNF.

All that effort, and the reports I'm getting suggest that Fred Thompson's Friday night appearance was the piece de resistance of the conference. He was introduced by Mary Matalin, who, in what attendees assumed was a swipe at Romney, called Thompson the race's true "principled" conservative. After his speech, Thompson spent a half hour shaking hands with the crowd. His stock is rising; perhaps it's a short term rise -- most Republicans are day traders, at this point. But you can't "rig" enthusiasm.

Two independent witnesses, one of whom was a Romney backer before tonight, e-mailed me to say that Thompson heard more applause than Romney.