HERMAN CAIN IS NOW MITT ROMNEY'S BEST FRIEND
Word is that Herman Cain is "reassessing" his presidential campaign -- although he insists that means he's just rethinking campaign strategy, not planning to drop out, after his latest sex scandal. (And really, why should this scandal lose him any voters? Who would have stuck with him through all the allegations of sex harassment and assault, only to say, "Oh, he had a consnsual extramarital affair -- now I'm through with him"?)
But the greatest minds in politics all want to know: who benefits from Cain's drop in support? (Or, as ABC's Note cheekily puts it, "Who Goes Up as Cain Goes Down?") But there's no need to speculate, because Public Policy Polling has the answer, and there isn't even a hint of ambiguity:
If Herman Cain really ends up dropping out of the race Gingrich's surge should continue in the next few weeks, unless/until something starts happening to erode his popularity. Why? Because Cain's supporters absolutely love Gingrich. And they absolutely hate Mitt Romney.
Our last national survey found that Gingrich's favorability with Cain voters was 73/21. Meanwhile Romney's was 33/55. That's the same basic trend we've seen in every Republican primary poll we've done in the month of November. On average in 7 polls we've done this month Gingrich's favorability with Cain voters is 69/22. Romney's average is 31/57. In other words Gingrich's net favorability is 73 points better with Cain supporters than Romney's.
So when you look at polls showing a Gingrich surge -- like the new one in South Carolina that has Newt 23 points ahead of Romney, at 38% to Romney's 15% -- you have to assume that Newt would be running away with this thing if not for Herman Cain. So Cain is Romney's best friend right now.
Yeah, yeah, I know -- until Gingrich gets in trouble with GOP voters. Here's the conventional wisdom on that:
If Cain does end up dropping out over reports that he had an affair, it could lead to a greater focus on Gingrich's messy personal life, three marriages and extra-marital affair. Though Romney is unlikely to directly attack Gingrich on this, expect to hear a lot more about Romney's 42-year marraige to emphasize that this isn't an issue Republicans would have to worry about should he be the nominee.
Oh, please. Republican voters like marital fidelity except when they don't. Please recall that in four of the last eight presidential elections, the GOP ran a divorced guy for president (Reagan, Reagan, Dole, and McCain). That's every race that didn't have a Bush at the top of the ticket. And the elder Bush was rumored to be an adulterer, while the younger Bush was an ex-drunk. The base didn't care about any of that. To the base, Bill Clinton was immoral; Republicans aren't immoral. (Or, at least, not very immoral -- that's why Herman Cain is still beating Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, and Huntsman.)
Gingrich's flip-flopping on abortion over the years is more likely to hurt him -- but he does have a real talent for saying, in effect, when confronted with the plain facts of his record, "Who you gonna believe -- me, or your lying eyes?" He should be losing support to Santorum, Bachmann, or Perry on issues significant to Bible-thumpers -- but nobody in the base likes any of those people anymore. So I think he's the favorite to take this thing right now.