CBS News has a new poll that shows Herman Cain in a dead heat with Mitt Romney for first place in the GOP presidential field, with Rick Perry sliding 11 points – from a comfortable first-place position two weeks ago to third place.
This is the latest in a raft of polls, taken since the Orlando GOP debate and Florida straw poll, to show Cain has vaulted into the top three, while Perry slid by double digits. The full results from CBS:
CBS sees a healthy chunk of undecided voters to fight over, which is good news for the Perry camp, although people are still peeved about his Texas DREAM Act:
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.
(Emphases mine.) The Drudge Report carries a headline today that Perry “raised over $17 million in 49 days.” That’s a prodigious feat of fundraising, although it should be noted the Orlando debate was only 12 days ago.
A bit of armchair poll analysis: it seem unlikely that most GOP voters will make up their minds based solely on in-state tuition rates for illegal aliens, or the use of an executive order to compel vaccinations. These issues hurt Perry so much because they indicate a mind-set that Republican voters recoil from. They don’t want to hear that the same massive government apparatus – running from local and state to federal levels – which micro-regulates every aspect of their lives has thrown up its hands and given up on dealing with a large population of lawbreakers, who must now be accommodated. They’re also sick and tired of government force being deployed against them “for their own good.”
Perhaps most of all, Republican voters are fed up with being told that opposing government policies is immoral. That’s what Perry did when he claimed you had to be “heartless” to oppose in-state tuition rates for illegal aliens. Every GOP voter knows he’ll be hearing plenty of that claptrap from Obama in 2012, and doesn’t need a double dose from the Republican nominee.
These are the perceptions Perry should address, if he wants to get past the DREAM Act and Gardasil issues. The latter has already begun to wane in importance, precisely because Perry didn’t rub salt in the wound with moral arrogance and condescension. He was humble and straightforward in admitting his use of executive orders was a mistake, and while he insisted his policy was correct on compassionate grounds, he was much less eager to insinuate that all those who opposed him were ogres. Perhaps his campaign will learn from the contrast in how much these issues hurt him, and how long the wounds continued to bleed.
Meanwhile, the solons of Beltway punditry have begun putting together their “Can Herman Cain Really Win?” columns. (Consensus: “Maybe!”) It is generally agreed that Cain’s rise is directly linked to Perry’s fall, although I think that understates how much Republican voters taking a second look at Cain genuinely like the guy, and think he’s got the chops to go all the way to the White House.
There are two big potholes looming in Cain’s road to the Oval Office: lack of money to compete with powerhouse fundraisers like Perry and Romney, and political organization. The only way for an outsider to accumulate those things is to look plausible. The Florida straw poll win was an important step in that direction for Cain, especially given the poll’s history of accurately predicting the eventual nominee.
For Cain, success involves bridging the gap between those who like what he wants to do, and those who doubt he can actually do it. For a strong conservative candidate, plausibility doesn’t involve “running to the center.” It’s about demonstrating that you are the center, and that you’re willing and able to lead the rest of the country back there, after a disastrous swing into the zero-growth, high-unemployment shadows of the far Left. That task will ultimately involve doing far more than merely undoing the damage caused by Obama, or even Obama and Bush. Cain sets Tea Party hearts aflutter because he sounds like he understands that. Now he needs to make the rest of the Republican electorate believe he can reach the White House, and get the job done once he arrives.
Cain’s got one other huge political asset that hasn’t been discussed much lately: the Tea Party. They love him, and they’re the ones who delivered the 2010 landslide. A victory for Cain in the early primary states will set them on fire.
No doubt the other candidates are working on strategies to deal with the new Top Three candidate, and devising lines of attack for the next debate. That’s good – primaries are contests, and only vigorous competition produces a tough nominee. Every Republican candidate should remember that they’ll want the Tea Party in their corner come 2012, and not just as bystanders wearily resigned to accepting Anyone But Obama.