New Fox Poll: Romney Takes the Lead

Posted: Sep 28, 2011 6:38 PM

A brand new Fox News poll of nationwide Republican voters suggests that Rick Perry's blunders and gaffes are catching up with him -- and that Mitt Romney and Herman Cain are the primary beneficiaries of the Texas Governor's eroding support.  It's just one survey, of course, but Mitt Romney has attained the top spot for the first time since Perry entered the race in August:

Perry now garners 19 percent, a drop of 10 percentage points from a month ago. That puts Romney back in the top spot with the support of 23 percent. Last month Romney was at 22 percent.  The new poll found Cain’s support has nearly tripled among GOP primary voters to 17 percent.  That’s up from 6 percent before this month’s debates, and puts him in what is essentially a three-way tie with Perry and Romney.

Newt Gingrich recovered some ground and now stands at 11 percent. Ron Paul receives the backing of 6 percent now compared to 8 percent before the September debates.  Bachmann registers 3 percent support, down from 8 percent in late August and a high of 15 percent in July.

Early state polls are much more useful in determining who will win the GOP nomination, but national polls offer a snapshot into the overall mood of the party faithful.  It seems as though the fallout from Perry's debate performances has now affected a broader audience, and his support has tumbled by double-digits.  Political scientist Larry Sabato tweets that these results are indicative of a conflicted and confused Republican electorate.  That might be an overstatement, but this race is definitely wide open.  I'm tempted to say this upheaval might provide yet another opening for a certain someone or two, but I am genuinely bored of all that chatter. 

For the moment, even though Cain's support has spiked (might this change if Cain starts getting asked some tough questions beyond his economic comfort zone?), this blow to Perry is a major boon to Romney.  For now, the former Massachusetts Governor's "don't panic" strategy seems to be paying dividends.  Will someone, anyone, start hitting the guy hard with  in-depth, relentless challenges over Romneycare?  Please?  Even if he ultimately wins the nomination, some of his past actions deserve intense scrutiny and criticism from the Right.  He must explain himself, thoroughly, to conservatives if he wants to earn the nomination, and so far, he's been able to skate by with well-rehearsed, nice-sounding, but ultimately insufficient answers.  If Perry cannot land those punches effectively, who will?  Based on his CNN appearance today, my guess is not Herman Cain.