Despite whisperings that Herman Cain was ready to endorse a candidate for the Republican nomination, all rumors were purportedly squashed Monday after the former CEO told supporters “I am not endorsing anybody today or in the very immediate future.” Nevertheless, following his decision to suspend his campaign, pollsters have already taken his name off the ballot in several new Iowa polls. His absence, in short, provokes an important question: How will Herman Cain’s exodus from the Republican primary race affect the outcome? Perhaps one way to answer this question, I suppose, is to examine two recent polls that may shed some light on what to expect in the crucial months ahead.
Certainly, the most salient observation after reviewing these numbers is that Herman Cain’s announcement, which many consider tantamount to a concession, has potentially catastrophic ramifications for Mitt Romney. In fact, the PPP survey indicates that social conservatives and Tea Part-backed candidates – such as Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and even Newt Gingrich – are polling demonstrably higher as a result of Cain’s departure. While one might expect Team Romney to gain traction following Cain’s withdrawal, the new poll suggests that a shrinking Republican field will do little to help the former Massachusetts governor court voters. What’s more, his most formidable Republican rival – former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – is unquestionably siphoning votes from Cain’s diminishing conservative base. This will, in effect, make it increasingly more difficult for Romney’s campaign to pull off a seemingly improbable victory in the Hawkeye State.
But why does Iowa matter so much? The answer may seem patently obvious, but a first place finish in Iowa has historically built momentum for candidates and may indeed catapult the winner to victory in New Hampshire. This was how Senator John Kerry, for example, came from behind to win the Democratic nomination for President in 2004. Moreover, of the eleven competitive caucuses in the Hawkeye State since 1980, the candidate leading in the polls a month beforehand has won them eight times. Thus, considering there are only 28 days left until voters cast their ballots, Cain’s withdrawal – while unexpected and lamentable in some Republican circles – suggests a Gingrich victory is becoming more and more imminent.
In any event, many political pundits claim Herman Cain’s exit has created a two-man race between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. If that’s the case, which I believe it is, the Iowa Caucuses will probably be the most important contest of the 2012 Republican primary season.