[Posted by Karl]
The latest WaPo/ABC News poll showing Rick Perry slumping and Herman Cain booming while Mitt Romney’s standing does not move tells the overall story. But the internals of that polling and statewide polls from PPP showing a Cain lead highlight how the Romney vs Not Romney dynamic plays out in the historical context of GOP politics.
On paper, Rick Perry would be the likely GOP nominee, by the combination of resume, regionalism and ideology. However, the WaPo poll reveals that Cain’s gain comes at Perry’s expense in the South, while Romney dominates outside the South. Perry’s slump is also steep among those aligned with the tea party movement. Finding Cain leading in North Carolina, Nebraska, and West Virginia, PPP’s Tom Jensen observes:
The thing fueling Cain’s lead in all of these states is strong support from the furthest right segment of the Republican electorate. Cain is at 35% with ‘very conservative’ voters and has a 14 point lead over Perry with them in North Carolina. In Nebraska he’s at 36% with them, putting him up 22 points over Gingrich and Perry. And in West Virginia he gets 25% with them, giving him a 9 point edge on Gingrich and Perry.
Although the conventional wisdom is to attribute Perry’s slide to his debate performances, these polls should suggest his problem runs deeper than that. I would suggest it is not performance, but content that is driving Southerners and conservatives away from Perry. The debates are just one avenue through which these groups are learning that Perry is perhaps not as conservative as they thought on some issues, and has defended his position on those issues in ways that insult conservatives. Thus, the base of the base is now gravitating toward Cain.
However, Jensen also has the broader context:
This most conservative group of Republican voters has been shopping for a candidate all year. They’ve gone from Huckabee to Trump back to Huckabee to Bachmann to Perry and now to Cain. I would expect their support for Cain to be pretty temporary. One thing that’s been very clear through all these twists and turns though- they’re not going to support Romney.
How well Cain holds up to the level of scrutiny given to a top-tier candidate remains to be seen. I would still say the same about Perry, who has been getting that scrutiny with much less time in the race than Cain. Unsurprisingly, Allahpundit is pessimistic about both leading flavors of Not Romney:
Cain doesn’t have the cash or the name recognition to go the distance with Romney. All the good news for him lately will help solve the latter problem, but probably not the former. Perry has the money and the high profile needed, but I can’t tell right now if voters who have soured on him will give him a second chance.
You know who doesn’t have to worry about money? Mitt Romney, who will be picking up a bunch of Gov. Chris Christie’s rejected suitors, including Republican uber-fund-raiser (not to mention part-time Joan Rivers impersonator) Georgette Mosbacher and billionaire John Catsimatidis. Not Romney will need a big wallet.
As for whether voters will give Perry a second look, no one can say for sure. If Cain holds up under the usual vetting, Perry may not get the opportunity. But the WaPo poll notes that 37% definitely would not vote for Romney now, down from 57% four years ago — which suggests many voters do not write candidates off entirely. Moreover, Romney is still attacking Perry, which may tell you he thinks Perry remains a viable Not Romney threat. Mitt watched John McCain go from next-in-line to dragging his own luggage through the airport to beating Romney in 2008, so who can blame him for being thorough?
Instant update: I think Allahpundit, writing about the new CBS poll, has a sharp take on Perry’s position. Also, pollster Mark Blumenthal notes that in the CBS poll, only 19% have made up their mind on which candidate to support.