UPDATE: In a conference call with senior campaign staff this morning, Herman Cain reportedly said that he was reassessing his campaign. At least a few of those on the line took that to mean he was considering dropping out.
I think most of us can now agree that Herman Cain is finished as a candidate. The combination of a terrible campaign staff, a painfully ill-prepared candidate and multiple allegations of sexual misbehavior has reduced Cain from the flavor of the month to an object of pity and embarrassment.
The former talk-radio host may choose to remain in the race, but he is no longer relevant and will continue to leak support. It’s time to move on.
So what does that mean?
I’ve been scrolling through a series of recent polls, both national and state-level. In general, all of them report that Gingrich, Romney and to a lesser degree Cain occupy an upper tier. But the question of the day is what will happen to Cain supporters? Where will they go as his candidacy collapses?
All of the polls suggest that they will go largely to Gingrich and to Romney. For example, in a recent Pew poll of Republicans nationwide, 31 percent of Cain supporters said they would take Gingrich as their second choice. Another 31 percent chose Romney as their second choice. Nobody else was even close.
Those numbers tell us that as Cain’s support evaporates, the gap separating Romney and Gingrich at the top and the rest of the field is going to grow considerably larger. The distinction between the two frontrunners and the also-rans is hardening and will not change from here on out.
Furthermore, judging from a series of state-level polls — North Carolina, Maine and the critically important South Carolina, for example — Gingrich gets a large plurality of Cain’s second-choice voters, boosting him to frontrunner status over Romney. That’s certainly how things have played out in Iowa.
The two most recent Insider Advantage and Rasmussen polls, each taken roughly a month apart, show Romney’s support staying flat. But as Cain’s support collapses, Gingrich’s support soars.
Yes, there’s a certain irony in Newt Gingrich reaping the benefits of another candidate’s adultery-fueled collapse. But irony is the ocean in which we swim these days.
– Jay Bookman