As Republican presidential front-runner Herman Cain battles allegations from over a decade ago that he made “inappropriate comments” to women while he was leading the National Restaurant Association, his campaign’s inconsistent and often testy handling of the crisis threatens to undermine Cain’s greatest strength among voters — his likability.
According to a national Quinnipiac University poll, which was conducted between October 25-31, Cain led the primary field with 30 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney was second with 23 percent. And Newt Gingrich came in third with 10 percent.
Further, Cain led Romney, 47 to 39 percent, in a head-to-head contest.
In the poll, 61 percent of Americans liked Cain as opposed to 19 percent that did not. Further, among Republicans, 82 percent of Republicans said Cain was “likable” as opposed to five percent that did not.
Cain’s likability is at the core of his appeal, and it was reflected in the Quinnipiac poll in which 75 percent of Republicans said Romney had the right “knowledge and experience” to be President while 51 percent said Cain did.
Peter Brown, who is one of the poll’s director, said that “Cain’s lead in the horse race is built on voters’ positive views of him personally, but there are warning signs that his lack of political experience could make it difficult for him to eventually close the sale.”
According to Cain’s campaign manager Mark Block, “supporters are fired up and rallying around Mr. Cain.”
“Americans are tired of dirty politics and are willing to commit their time, talent, and treasure to help Mr. Cain turn this country around,” Block said.
Initially, Block is right.
According to the Cain campaign, the campaign raised nearly as much money last week as it did in the the three month third quarter fundraising period as conservatives and supporters were galvanized to donate to Cain.
Further, Cain’s chief Iowa strategist Steve Grubbs said that the campaign has had the best organizing days of the year during the past week, as the campaign has gained more new precinct captains and volunteers than in any other period to date.
Polling done by Gallup not only confirms the intensity of Cain’s supporters, but also shows how much that support may be in peril as the drama concerning the past allegations against Cain plays out in the coming weeks.
According to the Gallup organization, Cain’s “positive intensity score,” which is measured by taking a candidate’s “highly favorable” numbers and subtracting one’s “highly negative” numbers from it, is the only one that has improved since Gallup’s initial measurement.
Cain’s score has gone from 19 to 29. Romney’s has went from 15 to 12, Newt Gingrich’s from 17 to 12, Ron Paul’s from 13 to 6, Rich Santorum’s from 16 to 8, Rick Perry’s from 21 to 6, Jon Huntsman’s from 12 to negative 2, and Bachmann’s from 20 to 3.
“The stability may not persist … as Cain is attracting scrutiny for allegations of sexual harassment while he was president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association,” said Frank Newport, who is Gallup’s Editor-in-Chief. “All interviews in the most recent field period were conducted before that story broke.”
Newport also said that per their past polling regarding media scandals, “the real key in these situations is how the candidates handle them. Challenges and crises in many fields of endeavors are often positives, because they provide an opportunity for those involved to show their mettle by their calm, cool, and collected reactions.”
“Military fame and fortune doesn’t come to peacetime bureaucrats for the most part, but accrues to those who handle the crises and challenges of wars and battle,” Gallup said. “Business executives are often likewise rated on how they handle crises, just as are NFL quarterbacks and airline pilots.”
After knowing news organizations were inquiring about Cain’s past for 10 days, Cain’s lack of a steady response has puzzled many. According to Gallup’s Newport, “these types of revelations and historical dredging of the record are certainly not unusual in political campaigns.”
“Many campaigns are so sure that these types of revelations are coming that they have fully-prepared quick response plans sitting in a file drawer, ready to spring into action when something surfaces,” Newport said.
To date, the Cain campaign’s response has threatened to take his campaign off message.
Going forward, the challenge for Cain’s campaign will be twofold. First, they must harness the support that they have received into ground support in the early voting states. Second, as Cain will get maximum publicity, he has an opportunity to turn what could be notoriety into a positive by using the platform the media will give him to talk about substantive issues and look like an executive and a leader.
Whether he has the organization and advisers to allow him to do that will largely determine if voters will think Cain and his organization are equipped to compete in the big leagues or are unable to hit curve balls that are thrown their way.