, Fla. - Former pizza executive Herman Cain surprised rival Rick Perry with an upset victory Saturday in a nonbinding Republican presidential straw poll in Florida, dealing a disappointing loss to the Texas governor two days after a shaky debate performance.
Perry, leading in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, had needed a victory in the key test of strength in a crucial state to salve the wounds left over from a debate with his rivals Thursday in which he struggled.
Instead, former Godfather's Pizza executive Cain, who is far behind the two top-tier candidates Perry and Mitt Romney, won with 37 percent of 2,657 votes cast.
Perry was a distant second at 15 percent, just ahead of Romney, who won 14 percent despite not participating in the poll. Further back were Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann.
Florida's straw poll is a nonbinding popularity poll and is significant only in terms of showing a candidate's strength in the state. The state contests to determine the Republican nominee do not start until early next year.
The Perry camp shrugged off the results.
"Cain won, we still have work to do," said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. "It's his day. The conservative message won today. We've been in this race for five weeks. We're going to continue campaigning hard."
Miner put the focus on Romney's third-place finish, saying he has been running for president for years and is still not breaking through.
"It's more of what happened to Mitt Romney. He's not going to be crowned president of the United States. He's going to have to work for it. And after five and a half years he once again got rejected in a key state in the Republican primary process," Miner said.
Perry created doubts among some conservatives at a debate with his Republican rivals Thursday that he admitted Friday was not his best performance.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Bachmann chose not to compete in the straw poll but since they took part in the debate and spoke earlier to delegates at the convention in Orlando, the Florida Republican Party put their names on the ballot.
This week, Governor Rick Scott pointed out that the winner of the Presidency 5 straw poll would go on to win the nomination. He explained that former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, plus 1995 GOP nominee Bob Dole all won Florida straw polls.
"Thank you to the Republican voters for this incredible honor of being named the winner of the Presidency 5 straw poll in Florida today," Cain said in a press release after his victory. "This is a sign of our growing momentum and my candidacy that cannot be ignored. I will continue to share my message of 'common sense solutions' across this country and look forward to spending more time in Florida, a critical state for both the nomination and the general election."
On Friday evening, Scott Plakon, the Americans for Prosperity- Florida Legislator of the Year who represents the state's 37th district, endorsed Herman Cain in front of more than 1,000 cheering supporters at the Rosen Center in Orlando, Fla. Scott is best known as the sponsor of the Florida Health Care Freedom Act, slated to be Amendment 1 on Florida's 2012 general election ballot.
"I'm proud to support Herman Cain. Our country is suffering right now from bad ideas, bad policies and bad leadership. Herman Cain has the right ideas, the right policies and is a proven business and conservative leader," Scott explained. "Over the last few days at the Orange County Convention Center, I've seen him connect with Florida voters like few candidates I've ever seen. I look forward to working with Herman Cain to see him win Florida and to become the next President of the United States."
In addition to being named the victor of Thursday night's FOX News/ Google/ RPOF Republican presidential candidate debate and the straw poll, Cain spent the entire week in Florida, touring the Sunshine State on his nationwide "Common Sense Solutions Bus Tour," addressing CPAC Florida and speaking at the Presidency 5 festivities.
* Herman Cain: 37.11 percent.
* Governor Rick Perry: 15.43 percent.
* Governor Mitt Romney: 14 percent.
* Senator Rick Santorum: 10.88 percent.
* Congressman Ron Paul: 10.39 percent.
* Speaker Newt Gingrich: 8.43 percent.
* Governor Jon Huntsman: 2.26 percent.
* Congresswoman Michele Bachmann: 1.51 percent.
Read more on Newsmax.com: Cain Upsets Perry in Florida Republican Straw Pol