After everything Romney did to boost his numbers at CPAC, he managed to beat Giuliani (who apparently expended no resources on this vote) by a whopping four points and outscored Brownback, a rival he absolutely overwhelms in terms of resources and media coverage, by all of six.  This has to be seen as another example of an underperforming campaign that is not seeing sufficient return on investment.  If Romney’s campaign were a corporate enterprise, they would be calling in the turnaround artists any day now, except that the chief turnaround artist is already running the show and is the reason for the enterprise’s weakness.  

Romney has managed to demonstrate that he can effectively dupe one in five activists with his song and dance, and he has spent a hefty chunk of change to do it.  When it comes to getting voters in primary states to the polls, he will have to do a lot better than this.  McCain even managed to get 12% and he didn’t even bother to show up.  He has bothered to show up in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Romney has to be worried, and Brownback has to be energised.

Update: Liz Mair seems to have a similar take:

Assessment: it’s worrying when paying 200 people to vote for you only enables you to beat an unapologetically pro-choice, pro-gay candidate with no organization present on the ground at the country’s biggest conservative conference, dominated by social conservatives who should like your pro-life, pro-FMA line.

Ed Morrisey has a lengthier analysis that comes to much the same conclusion:

However, the straw poll probably reflects Romney’s organizing abilities far more than his popular support among conservatives. The Romney campaign turned CPAC from a get-acquainted event to a mini-convention by recruiting scores of young activists to attend CPAC and haranguing attendees to vote for Mitt. The Brownback campaign did the same with a smaller coterie of foot soldiers. None of the other candidates bothered to do anything of the kind.

Understanding that, these numbers should be somewhat disappointing to the Romney campaign. Take a look at Giuliani’s numbers. Here’s a candidate who supposedly didn’t impress in his speech on Friday, whose consistent positions have him in conflict with more than a few of the groups comprising CPAC, and who didn’t have any organization at the conference or spend any time with the attendees outside of the speech. Despite all of these handicaps, 17% of the conservatives at CPAC selected Rudy over any of the other candidates — only four points lower than Romney. He beat Sam Brownback and Newt Gingrich, who is widely presumed to be preparing his own bid for the presidency.

John McCain also scored rather highly despite his snub of CPAC. He came in fifth, but still managed to win 12% of the straw poll without any organization or appearance at the conference. That’s only nine points behind Romney.

Romney had a good CPAC with or without a straw poll win. He scored well on his speech, with the consensus at the conference being that he delivered big when he needed it the most, and his personal appearance later generated some glowing comments. However, this result shows that he has only made himself credible as a candidate. He hasn’t really beaten anyone.

Weirdly, Giuliani and Romney tied among “limited government conservatives,” which evidently means that these people either don’t know much about their preferred candidates or they don’t know what “limited government” means.  The man who praises the PATRIOT Act and the man who gave you MassCare are not limited government conservatives and should not really be the preferred candidates of people who claim to be that.  Of course, neither of the candidates is conservative to start with, so what else is there to say?