Little known US Senate candidate Marielena Stuart won a surprise victory in the Pinellas REC Straw Poll last night, 110 votes to George LeMieux’s 69, Connie Mack’s 12, Dave Weldon’s 5, and Mike McCalister’s 4.
But when is a straw poll from an REC really a straw poll by an REC? It turns out that Pinellas Chairman JJ Beyrouti allowed anyone in attendance to vote. So the votes cast weren’t all from REC members. There was no fee to participate (like in the Pasco REC’s recent poll) and Stuart’s supporters came out in force.
As the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “Cuban-born Stuart railed against President Barack Obama, Roe vs. Wade, communism in China and Cuba, and popular tea party targets like Agenda 21 during her 15-minute speech.”
While Kevin Thornhill of the Pinellas Patriots, a 9-12 Project group, referred to her as a “female Ronald Reagan,” a member of the Pinellas REC who wished the remain nameless called the whole event “embarassing.” He stated “Stuart doesn’t have a chance in hell and we just marginalized ourselves by doing this.”
Our reaction: While Stuart’s red-meat tea-party inspired speech was well received, this whole episode shows how irrelevant straw polls really have become. We all remember Herman Cain’s victory at Presidency 5. The truth is that after Marco Rubio set the standard for making straw polls seem to carry some weight back in 2009, everyone has tried to be “the next Rubio.” But we believe Rubio’s rise was a one-time event – only when you are a credible candidate like Rubio taking on a liberal Republican incumbent like Charlie Crist can this strategy work. The US Senate Race this year simply is not a Crist v. Rubio redux.
Ms. Stuart stands little chance of winning the August primary, let alone a general election. She has a campaign war chest of $6,500, compared to Nelson’s $9.5 million campaign account, Mack’s $1.38 million, and LeMieux’s $1.19 million.
If an REC is to do a straw poll, it should follow one of two courses. 1) Only let actual REC members participate – then at least an REC Straw Poll will reflect the thoughts of actual REC members. 2) Charge for the straw poll – then no matter what happens, at least the REC makes some money off of the whole thing and the public knows that it would be a “fundraiser straw poll” open to everyone.
While this whole episode does show how unsettled the Senate primary is, it also shows how activists may be “grabbing at straws” in trying to find an alternative to Connie Mack.