Fueled by Tea Party supporters, conservatives and high-interest GOP primary voters, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain now leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. And in yet another sign of how volatile the Republican race has been with less than three months until the first nominating contests, the onetime frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has plummeted to third place, dropping more than 20 percentage points since late August.
Cain’s numbers are sky-high among Republican primary voters. Fifty-two percent view him favorably, versus just 6 percent who see him unfavorably. Among Tea Party supporters, his favorable/unfavorable score is 69 percent to 5 percent. And among Republicans who identify themselves as “very conservative,” it’s 72 percent to 2 percent. Despite Cain’s rise and Perry’s fall over the past month and a half, Romney’s standing in the Republican horse race hasn’t changed—it was 23 percent in August, and it’s unchanged at 23 percent now. But that doesn’t mean that Romney is unappealing to Republican voters. His favorable/unfavorable score is 51 percent to 16 percent, which is in the ballpark of Cain’s.
Romney's campaign is relying on the mentality of "slow and steady wins the race," so these numbers may not concern them all that much. Rick Perry has hemorrhaged support at an astounding clip over the last few weeks, an outcome Romney has actively helped precipitate. But...Mitt hasn't reaped one solitary percentage point from Perry's collapse. That's incredible. Must be all that anti-Mormon bigotry at play, right? Wrong:
According to the poll, the health-care reform Romney signed into law in Massachusetts is a bigger political problem for him than his Mormon faith. Forty-three percent of Republican primary voters say they have a less favorable impression of the former governor when told that he opposes the federal health-care law requiring that nearly all Americans have or purchase health insurance—but that his Massachusetts law has similar requirements. By comparison, 66 percent of GOP primary voters say they feel comfortable with Romney’s Mormon faith, versus just 13 percent who don’t feel comfortable.
Lest you think I'm hyping up a single poll too much, check out the latest from Democratic pollster PPP:
Yesterday PPP released numbers showing Herman Cain leading Mitt Romney 30-22 in Iowa and our monthly look at the national picture finds the exact same numbers. [Nationally], Cain is up 30-22 on Romney with Newt Gingrich sneaking past Rick Perry for 3rd place at 15% to Perry's 14% with Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul tied for 5th at 5%, Jon Huntsman 7th at 2%, Rick Santorum 8th at 1%, and Gary Johnson 9th with less than 1%.
As Allahpundit says, one poll may be an outlier -- but back-to-back results from reputable outfits showing Cain in the lead represents an unmistakable trend. For a striking visualization of the Cainmentum (and the Perrypocalypse) this chart does the trick. Whoa:
GOP voters remain lukewarm about Mitt Romney, even though he's weathered a number of polling storms. If the "not-Romney" coalition has abandoned Perry for good (due to his ample resources, I wouldn't go that far just yet), what happens if Cain's support collapses? It's a possibility that shouldn't be discounted out of hand. Could this possibly happen?
For whatever reason there's no doubt Gingrich is the candidate besides Cain who's had the most momentum on their side in the last month. His net favorability has increased 20 points from +7 at 46/39 to +27 at 57/30. And his share of the vote has increased from 10% to 15%. In an extremely fluid field he could yet prove to be a serious contender.
I suspect the mysterious reason is that he's turned in one brilliant debate performance after another. He's also worked diligently to improve his standing among conservatives by not attacking his GOP rivals, in favor of rhetorically bludgeoning President Obama and the media. As a result, his substantial early stumbles seem like distant memories. Herman Cain is riding high now, but there may be trouble ahead. If Cain crashes (both polls mentioned above were taken prior to the Dartmouth debate, which I doubt will impact his poll position too much), out of the billowing smoke and dust emerges....Newt?
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography