Experts: Cain Exit Would Be More Good News for Gingrich

Experts: Cain Exit Would Be More Good News for Gingrich

By Carl M. Cannon and Tom Bevan - November 30, 2011

Tuesday morning, on the heels of explosive new allegations of sexual impropriety, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain told supporters on a conference call that he would spend the next few days "reassessing" whether to remain in the race.

If Cain were to excuse himself from the 2012 Republican presidential field, he would leave roughly one-sixth of Republican voters looking for another candidate to support with less than five weeks before Iowans kick-start the GOP nominating process on Jan. 3.

Cain has already been hemorrhaging support over the last month, a casualty of allegations of sexual misconduct (and his campaign's inept response to those allegations) as well as a series of interviews in which he demonstrated an apparent lack of knowledge regarding foreign affairs. The Republican who has benefited most from Cain’s collapse is Newt Gingrich, who has surged in the polls.

This is particularly true in Iowa, where Cain’s poll numbers have fallen from 20 percent three weeks ago to about half that today. And as Cain contemplates his political path in the wake of the most recent challenge -- a credible-sounding Atlanta woman publicly proclaimed that she had a 13-year affair with the married candidate -- experts say the next question is whom do Cain’s remaining supporters like second best.

“In the second-choice question, Newt is running best -- and this stands to reason,” said conservative political consultant and political author Craig Shirley. “Some social conservatives who have supported Herman Cain will turn to Michele Bachmann, others to Rick Santorum, maybe, but Cain and Newt track closely. Each has a populist, outsider appeal.”

Former White House press secretary Mike McCurry, who worked on Democratic presidential campaigns in 1988 and 1992, concurs. “My guess is that Cain’s support is from those who want a pragmatic and unorthodox approach to conservatism,” McCurry said Tuesday. “Gingrich is the current flavor of that constituency and he will likely enjoy a boost if the Cain support needs to find a new home.”

Pollster Scott Rasmussen agrees. “Some of Cain’s support will go to ‘I’m not sure,’ ” Rasmussen said, “but some will go to Newt Gingrich because he’s the most viable ‘not Romney’ candidate right now.”

In Iowa, this matters more than in most places. On caucus night, supporters of minor candidates are openly urged to switch to other camps before the votes are counted -- publicly. But the polls aren’t definitive in answering the question. A Bloomberg News poll of Iowa Republican voters conducted Nov. 10-12 showed Gingrich and Cain tied as the top “second choice” candidates at 15 percent, with Mitt Romney a close third at 14 percent and Rick Perry the only other one in double digits at 11 percent.

But the lack of hard data doesn’t preclude informed guesswork. One Romney confidante said Tuesday that she had picked up rumblings in Iowa that Santorum, the socially conservative former Pennsylvania senator, was making inroads among former Cain backers. But given his anemic poll numbers throughout the campaign, that might be wishful thinking.

Dave Funk, the GOP co-chairman in Polk County, Iowa, believes a Cain exit will help both Gingrich and Perry. The Texas governor “will regain some of the supporters he lost to Cain,” Funk said, while others will be attracted to the surging Gingrich.

Craig Shirley’s business partner Diana Banister points out that much of Cain’s support in the Hawkeye State had come at Bachmann’s expense, and expressed the view that the conservative Minnesota congresswoman may get a second look.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Editor of RealClearPolitics. Tom Bevan is the Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. They are co-authors of the new eBook series, The RealClearPolitics Political Download.

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