A new CBS News Poll — which might be dubbed “consquences schmonsequences” — finds former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain at the top of the Republican nomination sweepstakes heap, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rising fast and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hanging in there as a front-runner:
In the Republican race for the presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich’s support continues to slowly grow, and he is now tied with Mitt Romney for second place, while Herman Cain just edges both of them out for the top spot. Both Cain and Romney have lost support since late October.
In a new CBS News Poll, 61 percent of Republican primary voters say the sexual harassment accusations against Cain won’t make any difference in their vote, but 30 percent say the charges make them less likely to back him, and that rises to 38 percent among women. Cain has lost support among women since last month – from 28 percent in October to 15 percent now. He has lost ground with conservatives and Tea Party supporters as well.
But the race could still change; seven in 10 Republican primary voters say it is still too early to say for sure which candidate they will support.
The field of Republican candidates now has three candidates within striking distance of each other at the top of the list: with 18 percent, Herman Cain is in the top spot, followed by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich with 15% each. Support for both Cain and Romney has declined since late last month, and Gingrich is the only one of the top three whose support is steadily – if slowly – on the upswing.
If Ronald Reagan had the political persona of The Happy Warrior, Gingrich is increasingly assuming the persona of The Grumpy Professor.
Cain has lost support among women since late October. Then, he led among women, garnering 28 percent of their support. Now, his support among women is just 15 percent. He has also lost ground with conservatives, from 30 percent to 23 percent now. And there has been some movement among Tea Party supporters as well; their support for Cain has declined from 32 percent to 19 percent. Romney has lost support among men, while Gingrich’s support among that group has increased eight points.
Six in 10 Republican primary voters say the charges of sexual harassment against Cain make no difference to their vote. Still, 30 percent say the charges make them less likely to support him.
And there are signs more developments will come in the sexual harassment story. So unless this story is over, Cain is likely to lose more support.
Of self-identified Tea Party supporters 71 percent say the allegations make no difference, as do 67 percent of conservatives. This poll was being conducted as new, and more specific, allegations arose against Cain.
Among women, 38 percent say they are less likely to support Cain because of the allegations against him. Fifty-seven percent say that will make no difference in their vote. Just 23 percent of men say they are less likely to vote for Cain because of the harassment allegations.
What to make of this? (1) The race is as fluid as ever. (2) Cain has either weathered this political storm or he is in political remission. (3) Gingrich is poised to become the new Anti-Romney — but keep in mind that so far Mitt Romney’s quite capable political organization has not unleashed their most-likely reams of opposition research on Gingrich. And Gingrich has shown a penchant for shooting himself in the foot when he blows smoke out of another, a bit higher, part of his anatomy.
The smoothest of the three with the least damaging existing or past political baggage is Romney — which is why he most worries the White House.
SOME OTHER VIEWS:
—The Atlantic’s Chris Good:
But here’s why you shouldn’t buy Gingrich as the new anti-Romney just yet: National polls don’t really reflect who’s leading. That comes down to the views of Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida, etc. The later early states, like Florida, can be deeply influences by the votes of the early early states, as Rudy Giuliani learned in 2008. Momentum matters.
Right now, we don’t really know who’s leading in Iowa. The most prominent poll in Iowa, put out by the Des Moines Register, hasn’t released new numbers since before Cain’s scandal, when Gingrich was tied for fifth. (He now ranks third, according to a lone Insider Advantage poll conducted Tuesday.) Numbers are scarce in New Hampshire and South Carolina, though Insider Advantage shows him polling in third in the latter.
Gingrich’s campaign also doesn’t have very much money, as presidential campaigns go. At the end of September, Newt 2012 was almost $1.2 million in debt, with just under $400,000 in the bank. He had raised just over $800,000 in the previous three months.
Gamblers, at least, haven’t been fooled by Gingrich’s seeming uptick. On the Intrade.com betting market, shares of Gingrich-to-win are cheap, reflecting a 12.6 percent chance of victory..
Cain is still on top, and more than sixty percent of primary voters are saying the sexual harassment stories aren’t impacting their decision. That part is good news for Cain, but it comes with a warning as well. His support among women has dropped measurably and outside the margin of error, from 28% in October to 15% now. That appears to be the majority of the shift which has tightened his lead and put him in what is essentially a three way horse race with Mitt and Newt.
The other, and perhaps most significant factor here is the massive amount of unrest among the voters. There is virtually no solidification behind any one person as the standard bearer yet. With less than two months until votes are cast in Iowa and New Hampshire, more than 70% of respondents are saying that “it’s still too early to say which candidate they will support.”
That’s not just a few independent leaners sitting on the fence. That’s a huge majority of the primary crowd. Perry seems to be doing the comedy tour circuit to play down debate gaffs and show that he’s got a sense of humor about it all. Cain is sticking to his, “nothing happened, let’s move on” strategy about the harassment allegations, and Newt is… well, he’s just being Newt. For better or worse, the voters seem to be waiting for some sort of Come to Jesus moment when the herd will receive the sign they’re waiting for and begin lining up.
That may never happen. I’m surprised to be saying it, but absent a serious sea change, this thing might actually go deep into the late state primaries if somebody can’t find a way to seize some actual, lasting momentum. If it does, you can bet that it will come down to who can unleash the most cash and the most effective ground game across a vast land war, rather than just four or five early contests.
We’re not interested in horse-race politics, but it is worth noting that all those pesky sexual harassment allegations haven’t stopped the Cain Train yet. In a CBS News poll, Herman Cain still held on to the lead in the GOP lineup, but Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich nipped at his heels. Yes, Newt Gingrich—him again.
Cain might want to quit it with the Anita Hill-themed humor while he’s ahead, however. It’s still early days, believe it or not, for Campaign 2012.
Again, keep in mind that CBS might not be making an apples-to-apples comparison between polls. But whatever the trend is, it’s very clear that the GOP field is very far from settled. To see a national poll less than two months from Iowa show the leading candidate with just 18% is remarkable and underscores the extent to which Republican voters are still shopping around for a candidate. According to CBS, “seven in 10 Republican primary voters say it is still too early to say for sure which candidate they will support.” Or, to put it differently, 85% of Republicans say they are undecided or are supporting somebody other than Mitt Romney, even though he’s the guy everybody agrees has a mortal lock on the nomination.
Cain is currently ahead in Iowa, although there are signs that his lead there is slipping in the wake of the sexual harassment stories. If he loses there, then his campaign may be fatally wounded. If New Hampshire is Mitt Romney’s barring an unlikely total collapse, so the best anyone can hope for their is a strong second place. Though he doesn’t say it, this seems to be what Jon Huntsman is hoping for, although I’m not sure how he’d capitalize on a good New Hampshire showing if he got it. Next we’ve got South Carolina, where Cain also still leads. However, if he loses Iowa then he’s likely to slip in South Carolina and a loss there heading in to Florida at the end of the month would be near-fatal. On the other hand, if Gingrich could manage to actually win one of those states, then he becomes a contender.
If things play out like they usually do for Republicans, then we’ll have two main contenders heading into Florida, then we’ll have two contenders, Romney and whoever the not-Romney is. If it turns out that there are two “Not-Romney’s” then that only helps Romney further, allowing him to pull off a victory without even a plurality of the vote. After Florida, there’s nearly a month off before the next round of primaries, which allows Romney time to regroup, raise funds, and prepare for the primaries in big states like California, New York, and Ohio where he’s likely to have an advantage. In the end, I still see the most likely outcome being a Romney victory, but hey, crazier things have happened.
Gingrich has been slowly but steadily moving up in the national polls over the past several weeks since Rick Perry’s support collapsed, but this is the first major national poll to finally put him in what I would consider a top tier status. Gingrich’s campaign has been mostly under the radar so far, but now that his poll numbers are up enough, he should start facing increased scrutiny, and there is a lot of Gingrich’s career to scrutinize.
The other important finding from the poll is that we are now finally seeing the multiple sexual harassment accusations hurt Cain’s standing in the polls. Cain has lost support across the board but significantly from women. According to the poll Cain support among women was nearly cut in half in the last month. He went from 28 percent support among women in October to just 15 percent support in this recent poll.
We could be seeing the first signs that Cain’s 15 minutes are just about up.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.