As I explained yesterday morning, Herman Cain must be breathing a little easier this week after skyrocketing in several national polls recently. According to a new CBS News poll released Tuesday night, for example, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO is now dead-even with nominal frontrunner Mitt Romney at 17%. While the one-term Massachusetts governor has picked up several key endorsements – including the support of Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone – the results suggest that voter disillusionment with Governor Rick Perry is perhaps the most significant reason contributing to Herman Cain’s newfound popularity.
Perry, meanwhile, has dropped from 23 percent support to just 12 percent support over the past two weeks, a sign that the Texas governor's shaky debate performances - in which he has alienated portions of both the Republican base and the party establishment - have taken their toll.
Eight in ten Republican primary voters said the candidates' debate performances are at least somewhat important to them, and 58 percent said they have watched the debates that have already taken place. Just ten percent of Republican primary voters said they agreed with Perry that the children of illegal immigrants should be allowed to get in-state tuition, a contentious topic in recent debates.
The silver lining for Perry is the race remains fluid: Three in four Republican primary voters who chose a candidate also said it was too early to make up their minds completely. Just 19 percent said they had definitively decided who they would support.
Rounding out the field are Newt Gingrich with eight percent support, Ron Paul with seven percent, Michele Bachmann with four percent, Rick Santorum with three percent and Jon Huntsman with two percent. Eighteen percent said they were undecided or unsure.
But, at the end of the day, is Herman Cain a serious contender who can defeat President Obama? A genuine concern of mine is his lack of political experience. After all, the last candidate to win the presidency without holding elected office at the local, state, or national level was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Yet, Ike served for decades in the United States military where he successfully orchestrated and carried out the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944. In other words, if elected president, Herman Cain would be the only Commander in Chief in American history to reside in the White House without any military or political experience. Hence, his chances of winning the general election, at least from an historical perspective, seem highly unlikely.
That being said, however, the more I hear him speak the more I find myself agreeing with him. One of the greatest challenges he faces as a political novice, of course, is his lack of name recognition. But after winning the Florida Straw Poll and performing exceedingly well in the last two Republican debates, his supporters are only growing more enthusiastic. And I suspect that after leaping in the polls these last few days -- to the chagrin of his rivals -- he will be one of the most formidable opponents in national politics in 2012.