RLC 2011 Wrapup

On The Straw Poll – I wasn’t going to write anything about it, because straw polls don’t reflect anything of value where public opinion is concerned, but Ron Paul’s having won the RLC straw poll yesterday – along with Jon Huntsman’s second-place finish – is noteworthy as a lesson in how political conferences like RLC work.

Paul and Huntsman both bused in supporters Friday and gave them delegate badges to use in an attempt to rig the poll results. Obviously Paul is better at this sort of thing than Huntsman is, having managed to get 612 votes to Huntsman’s 382. Paul, of course, was unsuccessful in rigging last year’s SRLC straw poll – losing by one vote to Mitt Romney, who had done a little better job of “spamming” the poll. Romney decided to opt out of this year’s spam-fest – and didn’t speak at the event at all – and ended up with just 74 votes. Huntsman begged out of the event as well, citing a cold. Which made his second-place finish in the straw poll so conspicuously fraudulent.

At this point it’s worth wondering why these straw polls are even conducted. Does anyone really believe there are almost nine times more Ron Paul supporters among GOP activists than Mitt Romney supporters?

The answer, of course, is money. Delegate badges for the event went for $199 apiece. Which would indicate that busing in 612 supporters would have cost the Paul campaign $120,000 – some of which they’d have recouped since the word was they were selling the delegate badges to their supporters for $39. Huntsman would have had to spend some $76,000 on badges for his people.

That’s $200,000 or so in revenues for the event’s organizers. Which is a pretty good chunk of change. One could argue that there’s an opportunity cost associated with collaborating in the straw poll spam-a-thon; when Paul’s supporters act like idiots in the hall, booing other speakers and spewing out the occasional heckle, it’s off-putting to more regular folks and many might decide not to bother going to the next conference as a result. Whether the number of lost customers represents a net loss for the event in dollar terms is dubious, though, so for now the straw polls – and the diet of spam – will continue.

POLITICO’s Impersonation Of Objectivity Gets The Hook – On Saturday, there was a breakup of the speechifying when Reggie Brown, a comedian carving a niche for himself as an Obama impersonator (and who is an amazing likeness of the president), did a bit of political satire on the stage. Brown’s delivery as Obama is nearly flawless, and he was funny. Some of his material was a little over the line for an event televised by C-Span, though – there were cringes when Brown-as-Obama said that his wife celebrates Black History Month while he celebrates half of it, and when he said his mother loved a black man and she wasn’t a Kadashian. He also took shots at GOP candidates like Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty. For the most part, he was great, and while he got groans from some of the crowd his set was well-received and taken in a lighthearted spirit.

But Brown’s act ran too long for the time allotted, and with Saturday’s schedule having been already thrown into chaos by Buddy Roemer’s Rambling Drone Of Doom earlier in the day the organizers had to enforce some time-clock discipline. So he got cut off.

Everybody in the room who had a copy of the schedule could see what was going on – at that point RLC was almost 45 minutes behind schedule based on the roster released to the media – and nobody was surprised when the music came up and Brown got the hook. But POLITICO.com’s Jonathan Martin wrote the thing up this way

Obama impersonator crosses the line at RLC

NEW ORLEANS – A comedian impersonating President Obama made racially tinged jokes Saturday at the Republican Leadership Conference before being pulled off the stage by an event organizer.

The Obama impersonator, Reggie Brown, said that while the First Lady celebrated all of Black History Month, the bi-racial president only celebrated half the month.

Brown also said: “My mother loved a black man, and she was not a Kardashian.”

Flashing a picture on the screen of Fred Sanford of “Sanford and Son” fame, the comedian said that’s what Obama would look like when he got older.

Brown didn’t just limit his jokes to Obama, though. He also mocked Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, ridiculed Newt Gingrich’s faltering campaign and suggested Tim Pawlenty needed a spinal transplant.

As Brown was preparing to make a Michele Bachmann joke, one of the conference’s officials came out to the lectern and told the comedian to leave the stage.

It was a remarkable display and came just one day after two high-profile Republicans — Haley Barbour and Bobby Jindal — urged activists to focus only on going after Obama on policy and not engage in personal attacks.

Martin didn’t see what we saw. Brown got the hook due to time constraints, not content. If he’d bombed as badly as Martin suggests, he wouldn’t have been introduced around by the same convention organizers at the VIP reception Saturday evening – and given a hero’s welcome by a good many of them.

But it’s the narrative that matters, and suggesting that the RLC’s organizers had an Obama impersonator bomb from the gutter before getting yanked is a lot better narrative to generate site traffic than “hey, this guy looks and sounds just like Obama, and he was really funny if maybe a bit edgy for the occasion, but he ran long on time and had to get cut off.”

Perry Doesn’t Say He’s Running, But Makes It Obvious He Is – A number of the event’s organizers and staff had touted Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Saturday speech as a potential announcement of his candidacy, saying that Perry might be offering the big surprise of the conference.

That didn’t quite happen.

What did happen was a lively, passionate 24-minute (Perry actually managed to come in under his 30 minute allotted time) sermon about decentralizing power, fiscal restraint, social conservatism and economic growth that looked for all the world like a stump speech.

And it contained a dead giveaway – Perry asked the crowd to text “forward” to 95613 if they agreed with what he was saying, which is of course a time-honored, easy tactic for building a campaign database. You don’t do that if you’re not promoting something like a campaign for office.

The general sentiment following Perry’s speech was that he was running. And it seemed there was a pretty good amount of sentiment in favor of him doing so, as the crowd issued a “Run, Rick, Run!” chant at the end of the speech.

Perry wasn’t listed as a candidate in the straw poll. Paul and Huntsman’s spam tactics aside, it would have been interesting to see how Perry would have done if he’d been in the field.

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