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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Which Candidate Stands the Most to Benefit from the Cain Catastrophe?

If the Herman Cain allegations were a "fiasco" when I posted about them 4 days ago, they are a full blown campaign killer now. Three additional women have gone public with much more serious allegations against Cain, one saying he offered her a job in exchange for sexual favors, and the other saying he reached his hand up her skirt. This is a game changer. I would speculate that before Thanksgiving, one of two things will have to happen: either Cain will somehow prove his innocence and these allegations will be exposed as baseless, or, if he cannot do so, he will be forced to drop out of the race, even if he maintains his innocence as he does so. If he's innocent, and these five are all just dishing lies with encouragement from a liberal media, that would be terribly unfair to Cain. But honestly, with each passing day that more women step up, that becomes less and less likely, and certainly less and less believable to an electorate that already has doubts about Cain's electability.

So let's say that in the coming weeks, Cain is forced to drop out. What would the results be on the rest of the pack? Presently, Cain is in first place with 25.2% of the support (according to the RealClearPolitics average of 6 national polls). Romney is in second place with 23.3%, Gingrich in 3rd with 12.2%, Perry in 4th with 10.2%, Paul in 5th with 8.3%, and then Bachmann, Santorum and Huntsman each with less than 3.5%. Intuition says that without Cain, Romney would then be the clear favorite, because he has nearly twice as much as his nearest opponent. Simply removing Cain from the equation would remove his biggest competitor, making him a huge winner.

But Cain's supporters wouldn't just disappear along with Cain himself, and Cain's absence doesn't do Romney any good if those 25.2% all remain unified and join the supporters of some other candidate. Romney must hope to win over many of Cain's supporters into his camp. For those he cannot win over, he must hope they divide themselves fairly evenly among the second-tier candidates so that nobody else is thrust back up to challenge his front runner status. Will Cain's supporters be likely to support Romney without Cain as an option? If not, who are they most likely to turn to?

To understand this, we have to make inferences from previous polling data about what things drew Cain's supporters to Cain. Then, we must make educated guesses about which of the other candidates have those things, and would thus be most appealing to Cain's old supporters. If we examine poll data over the past year, we see that many of that almost all of Herman Cain's support was accrued in late September and early October. This surge occurred almost exactly in line with Rick Perry's collapse. Consider where these three candidates were polling in the RCP average on these dates:

September 13th:
Perry: 31.8%
Romney: 19.8%
Cain: 4.2%

October 2nd:
Perry: 26.5%
Romney: 23%
Cain: 9%

October 7th:
Romney: 21.8%
Cain: 16.2%
Perry: 15.8%

October 21st:
Cain: 26%
Romney: 25.5%
Perry: 12.5%

In 5 weeks, Perry dropped from 32% to 13% and Cain rose from 4% to 26%, while Romney stayed within 6% points of his score the whole time. Over this same time frame, no other candidate dropped or fell more than 4% points (the largest changer was Newt Gingrich, who increased from 5.3% to 9.2%). This evidence suggests that the same people who jumped off the Rick Perry bandwagon jumped directly onto the Herman Cain bandwagon. Why is this?

It would be a mistake to dismiss Cain's appeal on his own merit entirely, but it's probable that a lot of these supporters weren't so much "pro-Cain people" as they were "anti-Romney people". Romney is a polarizing guy in an election shaped by the Tea Party. The Tea Party has rejuvenated the ideological, small government faction of the Republican Party, and that is not Romney's forte. Romneycare and a history of big government compromises in liberal Massachusetts have alienated the fiscal conservatives, and a history of flip flops have alienated him from the "vote out the career politicians!" crowd.  He's beloved by social conservatives, and that group has held consistently strong for him. But those who dislike him have demonstrated a willingness to support just about anybody else but him.

Since August, we've had various candidates take up this Tea Party mantle, rise as people view them as the anti-Romney, and then fall as the media exposed their weaknesses. Bachmann experienced a brief shoot up the rankings during her Iowa Straw Poll triumph, but then shot down in August. Perry replaced her but then then shot down with the poor debate performance and the ranch controversy. Cain took his place and now he's potentially down or even out. Romney's support has stayed relatively consistent throughout all of this turmoil. I predict it will remain about the same looking forward too. It think Romney has been around long enough that most Republicans have already decided whether they like him or not. Those who do see him as the only option in a weak field, and those who don't are willing to try fringe candidates to ensure he loses.  Therefore, I speculate that those who supported Cain are probably unlikely to fall into the Romney camp should Cain drop. A few will probably do it reluctantly, due to a lack of better options. But most will probably look to find someone else who takes Cain's small government, tax-cutting, spending-cutting rhetoric. Who will that be?

The most likely benefactors are Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. As we've shown, many of the Cain supporters probably came from Perry's camp in the first place, and therefore may still like him as a fallback. Gingrich is a small government champion whose platform is similar to Cain's, and he is in third place right now. Even though Gingrich has a slight edge right now in the polls, I think Perry has a better shot at being the nominee because of his job creating resume and lack of Gingrich's baggage.  But honestly, both of their appeal is simply due to the process of elimination. The absence of Cain does not make either of those two guys any more enticing. I don't think Cain's 999 gimmick captured the hearts and minds of the American conservative either, I just think Republicans tried and failed with Bachmann and Perry, and then they looked around and didn't see much else. If Cain falls too, they've got to be getting desperate.

It is for this reason that there has never been a better time for a fiscal conservative to make a move than right now.  There are a bunch of small government fiscal conservatives around looking for someone to endorse. Santorum is Romney without having been governor, Bachmann is viewed as a nut-job prone to gaffes who killed her chance, and both are too socially conservative anyway. If Cain falls out, the door is wide open for somebody most people haven't considered to make a run for it. Yes, Ron Paul and John Huntsman, I'm looking at you. Both of these guys are a total longshot: Ron Paul's foreign policy and non-party-line-towing nature will probably turn people away, nobody knows who the hell John Huntsman is, and both are frankly kind of ugly. But if either of them have huge piles of money sitting around (Paul has $40.24 of mine...), this is the time to spend it, because the race is no more clear right now than it was when it began.

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