There is some encouragement for both Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani here. You can see the powerpoint slides yourself here; I have a few observations.
First, the attendees at this event were overwhelmingly college-age or just older than college-age, and two-thirds of them were men. Perhaps their youth is partly responsible for the enthusiatic reaction of some of them at Ann Coulter's slur. College-educated people should know better, of course, but perhaps some life experience will do them some good in this regard. (For her part, Coulter has a higher bar of explanation than "immaturity." But that was the previous thread.)
Second, a majority of these young party activists identified "reducing the size of government" as their primary goal of political activism, rather than "promoting traditional values." Fewer than one in five opted for national security as their top political priority. Wither then the leaders of the GOP who have been agitating for so long against the Islamofascist threat, or even the leaders of the social values cadre of conservatives? A libertarian slant appears to be a different angle to "excite the base," an angle that has not been tried for at least eight years (indeed, if not twenty). But that part of the base is still there and hungry for attention.
Of course, just because the Reaganesque/libertarian ideal of reducing the scope of government is the top priority does not mean it is the only priority or that these three agenda items are necessarily incompatible with one another. So it's possible to read too much into classifying these people as "libertarian," "values," and "security" conservatives, because these are not mutually exclusive concerns. Nevertheless, this does seem to be a reasonable snapshot of the three policy priority groups that Republicans seem to have.
The Presidential preference is moderately in favor of Romney for the top spot, and moderately in favor of Giuliani when assimilating first and second choices. Romney beats Giuliani by one percentage point amongst "libertarian" conservatives; Brownback blows away both Romney and Giuliani amongst "values" conservatives; and Giuliani is convincingly but not decisively in the lead amongst "security" conservatives. McCain only polls competitive numbers amongst the "security" conservatives.
It is probably inevitable that a candidate with as centrist a set of values as Giuliani would not top out the list at a function like this. Young, probably strident, idealistic college students are more likely to express a preference for a Brownback or a Tancredo than regular voters, whose taste runs closer to the mainstream. That Rudy did as well as he does in a tough room like this speaks well of either his charisma or his momentum (or both). And, the amalgam of first and second choice candidates favors Giuliani, paralleling a similar straw poll taken in 2000 which predicted Bush as the party's nominee.
Overall, the data depicts a young group of activists who seem to think their party is lost in the woods, and they are looking to right the ship's course by going back to basics. That is probably why most of them prefer "Reagan Republicans" to "George W. Bush Republicans." There is some concern about the war but hints of confidence in its successful eventual outcome; there is much more concern about the bloat of government representing a betrayal of conservative principles.
Activists' support counts for a lot, but we'll know what really counts in about four weeks, when FEC campaign donation reports are due. The big mystery is how much money Romney and Giuliani can raise. If Romney can't stay in the same league as Rudy, that's going to weigh heavily on other donors' minds.
Not A Potted Plant Has A New Home
Readers! Not A Potted Plant is moving. Please switch your RSS feeders like Google Reader, and update your bookmarks, to draw from the blog's new site, generously hosted by the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Thank you for your continued support.