Herman Cain: New Republican Frontrunner?!

Herman Cain is leading Mitt Romney in two respected polls.

When Taegan Goddard pointed to a new Public Policy Polling survey showing Herman Cain leading Mitt Romney 30 to 22 in the race for the Republican nomination for president, I was dismissive.

Yes, PPP is a well respected firm. Additionally, they applied a likely voter screen, which tends to be more useful than traditional early media polls, which look at registered voters or, in many cases, simply adults. But they were an extreme outlier. As I pointed out to Michael Cohen, “They have Cain at 30; no one else has him above 18. And Gingrich at 15; no one else has him above 9.”  My guess was that this was simply the one case out of twenty that falls outside the confidence interval–that is, a random fluke.

Well, another shoe has dropped: The MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll was just released, also showing Cain in the lead.

Fueled by Tea Party supporters, conservatives and high-interest GOP primary voters, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain now leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

And in yet another sign of how volatile the Republican race has been with less than three months until the first nominating contests, the onetime frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has plummeted to third place, dropping more than 20 percentage points since late August.

“Cain is the leader … That’s the story,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

But McInturff cautions that Cain’s ascent — and Perry’s decline — is probably not the last shakeup in a GOP race that has seen a series of sudden rises and abrupt falls (first Donald Trump, then Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and now Perry) in the field.

“There is still a long, long, long time to go,” McInturff said.

Cain checks in as the first choice of 27 percent of Republican voters in the poll, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 23 percent and Perry at 16 percent. After those three, it’s Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 11 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8 percent, Bachmann at 5 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 3 percent.

In the previous survey, conducted in late August, Perry led the field at 38 percent, Romney stood at 23 percent, while Cain was at only 5 percent.

In the interests of full disclosure for new readers, McInturff is the managing partner of the firm that employs my wife. Additionally, as I’ve noted before many times, another of the firm’s founding partners, Neil Newhouse, is Mitt Romney’s lead pollster. (And, no, I don’t get or want to get any inside scoops on the polls. My wife is the COO and runs the day-to-day business side of the firm and is only tangentially involved in polling.)

This makes two polls in a row in the RealClearPolitics poll of polls showing Cain in the lead. One is a fluke. Two is a trend. (Although the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, not yet included in the RCP list, has Romney ahead of Cain 23 to 19, with Ron Paul at 13 and Rick Perry at 10.)

Clearly, either my pronouncement this morning that the latest debate made Romney the clear frontrunner was either premature or these results reflect a lag in polling–that is, they were taken after the previous debate but before last night’s debate could be factored into the results. Perhaps both are right.

There’s little doubt that Romney’s frontrunner status–if it can be called that–has been uneasy. Few, myself certainly included, are wildly enthusiastic about him. Several–Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, and non-candidates Sarah Palin and Chris Christie–have worn the mantle of the Not Romney candidate. It’s clearly Cain’s turn.

No major party in modern American history has nominated someone whose resume doesn’t include previous stints as President, Vice President, US Senator, Governor, or general for the presidency. I don’t expect Cain to break that streak. But it’s probably a little early to consider this race in the bag for Romney quite yet.

UPDATE: An alternative explanation, “Stacy McCain was right,” strikes me as wildly implausible.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. G.A.Phillips says:


  2. Terrye says:

    I don’t think Cain is a frontrunner. Yet. It could happen, but I do think that people will have problems with his ideas about a consumption tax….and Romney was good last night. Needless to say that would not effect these polls. It would be few days before you would see that.

  3. Hey Norm says:


  4. Hey Norm says:

    Sorry….I meant Nein-Nein-Nein.

  5. sam says:


    I dunno GA, you know how old Nick works, and Michelle did point out the 999 is 666 looked at properly. You might be in a heap of trouble. Voodoo economics for real. I’d be real careful, dude.

  6. David M says:

    And “Not Romney” continues to clean up. For a laugh, we’ve seen plenty of potential general election candidates polled against Obama, like Romney, Perry, Palin, etc, but never “Not Romney” vs Obama.

  7. Loviatar says:

    As was pointed out to me this past weekend; for all of Herman Cains’ rise in the poll, has the money followed. In other words, has his fundraising total risen in conjunction with his rise in popularity, if not then he is not a serious candidate and he sure the hell is not the frontrunner.


    I wrote this in May when Mike Huckabee dropped out the race, it was true then and its even more true today.

    The Republicans are going to nominate Herman Cain.

    Unless a significant negative factor occurs sometime over the next 18mths Obama will be reelected. The economy and job outlook while not overwhelming is doing enough so most people will give Obama a wash on that aspect. Osama’s death, the Republican’s parties death wish since they gained power in the lower house (social conservative bills all day, all the time, no serious efforts to reduce the deficit, no jobs bill, the attack on Medicare and other social programs, debt ceiling hostage, etc.) will bring in true Independents and the disaffected Democrats and Democratic leaning Independents will come home as the election comes nearer.

    Therefore the Republicans get to nominate a sacrificial lamb in 2012. Why not have it be a black man so they can play the “I’m not a racist some of my closest friends are black” card. They did it when Obama first got elected by nominating Michael Steele RNC Chairman, someone who was a wildcard and unqualified for the position in every way but one, guess which one.

    For those who say I’m playing the race card, tell me there aren’t enough cynics among the Republican power elite to think this way and actually try to implement this strategy. Cain hits all the conservative points, plus he is comfortable in front of a microphone and he doesn’t give off the scary, crazy black man vibe like Alan Keyes.

    The smart Republicans are targeting 2016, they may as well get their name out there with a headfake run in 2012 (Huntsman) so people will get to know them, but 2016 is when there will be no clear Democratic choice and the American public may be tired of a Democratic Administration – change for changes sake (i.e. Bush 2000).

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    sam,dude we got 666 right now…6 trillion here, 6 trillion there, and 3 trillion new taxes and 3 trillion new regulations it adds up to like 600 and 66 trillion in like the next 6 years when its Hillary’s

    Damn I forgot the trillion new czars,and the trillion crushed cars, crap, maybe your right….

  9. Dean_L says:

    One of these times a not-Romney is going to have to stick (not fade away). Cain could have the advantage of timing. While there indeed is a long way to go, with New Hampshire talking about a December 6th primary, there is a now factor to consider (I’m not going to say fierce urgency – but the timing for Cain seems friendly).

  10. PJ says:

    The margin of error for the part about the republican primary is so big that you really can’t say anything. It’s 5.35 percentage points, and the difference between Cain and Romney is only 4 percentage points. So, for all we know, it could be Romney 28%, Cain 22% or Cain 32%, Romney 18% or anything between….

    And the margin of error for the PPP poll is 4.5 percentage points. And the difference between Cain and Romney in that poll is only 8 percentage points….

  11. Hey Norm says:

    David M….
    I like it!!
    NOT-ROMNEY ’12

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    I’m not sure what it means that anyone who manages to avoid looking galactically stupid automatically pulls ahead of Mitt Romney, and yet he’ll still be the nominee. Maybe conservatives aren’t sure who will work harder to step on the poor?

  13. Hey Norm says:

    Let’s be honest Ben…if the Republicans thought they could beat Obama they wouldn’t be fielding the guy that lost to the guy that lost to Obama. If Obama was really beatable we’d be looking at a different field.

  14. ponce says:


    From the PPP survey:

    Q23 Do you think Barack Obama was born in the United States?

    Yes – 39%
    No – 39%
    Not Sure – 22%

    That’s right, 61% of Republicans are still Birther-level crazy…

  15. Franklin says:

    Personally, I think all this volatility means that most people aren’t really paying any attention yet to the two-year campaign for a four-year position. Do any of these polls stop to ask how much the respondents actually know about any of the candidates? If I was forced to answer one of these polls, I’d probably just give a random answer.

    Oh, and despite millions of supposed respondents to thousands of surveys done by multiple polling firms over five presidential elections, they have yet to actually call me. I’m still sort of convinced they make up most of the results.

  16. jan says:


    has his fundraising total risen in conjunction with his rise in popularity, if not then he is not a serious candidate and he sure the hell is not the frontrunner.

    From what I’ve heard Cain’s fundraising and on-the-ground infrastructure to run a campaign is nil.

    I like Cain a lot. His life story is admirable. His rise up into the corporate world has been commendable. He has values of self reliance that I agree with and have followed myself. However, he doesn’t seem to be taking this presidential gambit seriously.

    Iowa, a state pundits say he has to win, Cain has been MIA.

    Basically, he seems to be enjoying the presidential campaign stump, but is really approaching the issues somewhat superficially. His 9-9-9 doesn’t make much sense to me, except as a novel idea. If he is trying to persuade people that there is a need for tax reform, then fine, I’m on board with that. But, there are too many gapping holes in his financial plan to make it anything more than a symbolic gesture for me.

  17. Davebo says:

    Nice comment Jan. And you’re right. Cain is following the Palin gravy train. He’s Fred Thomas without the red pickup.

  18. Nightrider says:

    @Hey Norm: Like when the Republicans in 1980 nominated the guy who lost to the guy who lost to Carter?

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    @Nightrider: Yes, that’s exactly right. Have fun with it.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Hey Norm, @Nightrider, @Ben Wolf: This is really the standard Republican move. George W. Bush in 2000 is the only Republican nominee in my lifetime who hadn’t previously run and lost. (There’s also the Gerald Ford asterisk but he was an accidental president and vice president and pretty much had to be nominated.) McCain, Dole, HW Bush, Reagan, and Nixon all had failed runs–if not multiple failed runs–in their past. Three of those five won and two of them won two terms.

  21. Hey Norm says:

    This just in….Romney is no Reagan.

  22. ponce says:

    This just in….Romney is no Reagan.

    He isn’t even even Bob Dole…

  23. mattb says:

    Judging from a quick survey over the last week or so, it seems like Conservative Talk Media support (as opposed to FNC) is currently organizing behind Cain. And it seems like most of that support is really a thinly veiled attack on Romney.

    Which leads me to wonder if Romney’s campaign is going to end up “McCained.”

    Generally speaking, in 2008 from when McCain cinched the nomination to the announcement of Palin (only longer), he had real problems igniting the activist section of the base (the ones who would become the tea party). It seems to me that much of that had to do with the fact that for months Rush and other RW Talkers had drilled it into their audiences heads that he wasn’t a good conservative.

    As the primaries are really early this year, it is entirely possible that Romney clinches early. If so, it will be interesting to see how his campaign attempts to prevent the same sort of enthusiasm gap (perhaps naming his conservative VP very early in the process).

    Also, it looks to me that FNC and Hannity in particular are already falling behind Romney (granted Cain will get a lot of attention as a flavor of the month). It will be interesting to see if this forms a schism in Right Wing Media.

  24. rick says:

    “No major american politcal party in modern history has nominated someone whose resume didn’t include stints as President, Vice President, US Senator, Governor of General for the presidency”.

    Except when the Republicans nominated private citizen and businessman Wendell Wilkie in 1940. And he gave Roosevelt his toughest race up to that point.

    Unless your not considering 1940 as “modern”.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @rick: The modern era probably began in 1960. It’s just not the same phenomenon without binding primaries and television.

  26. Wayne says:

    Many people’s conventional political wisdom went bust in 2010 and even in many of the special elections. IMO the upset the cart movement is not over.

    I heard about a poll that had 70% of Republicans who wouldn’t vote for Romney. It is hard to draw a firm conclusion on that without knowing how deeply they felt that and how it compares to other candidates. However on face value it doesn’t sound good. I am not counting Romney out by any means though.

    I still think Romney is the establishment prefer candidate which does mean a good deal especially in fundraising. However in this election it may hurt him in the end. I predict insurgent candidates will be on the rise this time out. Excluding Obama, I even think Democrats will feel the movement this time in their primaries.

  27. Wayne says:

    @ Rick
    How many times in modern history has a first term Senator been elected President before Obama?

  28. lazarusrising says:

    @mattb You make some good points about the RW media. Looks like the speeded up race is coming down to a contest for VP. Who else sees a Romney/Cain ticket coming soon?