Race in Flux After Herman Cain Exit

Expected to solidify Gingrich’s front-runner status.

On Saturday, former front-running presidential candidate Herman Cain suspended his campaign following a series of allegations about sexual harassment and a recent affair. He said he will endorse a rival soon, which a former advisor says is likely to be Newt Gingrich. If Cain’s supporters move mostly into Gingrich’s camp, then the former Speaker of the House will solidify his frontrunner status and the other campaigns’ survival will depend upon bringing him down.

Cain, standing with his wife behind him, denied the accusations against him and said they were taking a steep toll on him and his family. The stories have made it impossible to get back on message, he said. Cain admitted that his campaign was suffering a loss in support and fundraising. A poll out of Iowa shortly before his decision to quit found him in fourth place at 8%. Cain unveiled a new website, TheCainSolutions.com, to promote his ideas.

Cain and Gingrich have a close friendship and Cain has said that if he had to choose a rival to be his running mate, it’d be him. A former senior advisor says he is very likely to endorse Gingrich soon and a large amount of his supporters will follow. About 37% of Cain’s backers pick Gingrich as their second choice, followed by Michele Bachmann with 14%, Mitt Romney with 13% and Rick Perry with 12%. Nearly three-fourths of Cain’s supporters view Gingrich favorably, but only 33% view Romney favorably.

“Cain’s supporters absolutely love Gingrich. And they absolutely hate Mitt Romney,” wrote Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling.

According to the RealClearPolitics poll average, Gingrich has a national lead of 6.2 points. The most recent Rasmussen poll has him with a whopping 21% lead over Romney. In Iowa, which will hold a caucus on January 3, Gingrich has an average lead of about 10%.

A poll by NBC News-Marist was adjusted to reflect the second-choice picks of likely caucus-goers and determined that Gingrich’s support is currently at 28% with Ron Paul and Mitt Romney tied for second at 19%. Rick Perry is in third at 10% and the rest are below 5%. Nate Silver observes that of 11 Iowa caucuses held since 1980, 8 were won by whoever was ahead one month before the vote.

Newt Gingrich’s strong leads in South Carolina, which the eventual Republican nominee has won each time since 1980, and Florida, are likely to strengthen in the wake of Cain’s exit. In South Carolina, Gingrich has an average lead of 8.6 points. The latest Insider Advantage poll has him at 38% with Romney far behind at 15% and Cain in a close third at 13%. In Florida, Gingrich has a massive lead in the latest poll with 50% of the likely primary voters backing him, followed by Romney at 31% and Cain with 10%.

Mitt Romney is now going on the offensive against Gingrich by painting him as a Washington “insider.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who endorsed Romney, says Gingrich has “never run anything” and will speaking at a rally for Romney in Iowa on December 7. Depending on which poll you believe, Romney is in second or third in Iowa.

However, Romney has just begun advertising there and is only now making a final push there. Some of Gingrich’s support has come from Romney and as Gingrich comes under scrutiny, Romney may win back that support. In addition, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Ron Paul are now taking shots at Gingrich and a surge in support by one of them in Iowa will elevate Romney’s chances.

Mitt Romney’s campaign hinges upon winning New Hampshire. He is the strong favorite to win there and has an average lead of 16.5 points. Although Gingrich has surged there to 23% and will gain further because of Cain’s withdrawal from the race, Romney still gets 39% in the latest poll and can feel safe. It is very possible that Romney will gain overall in the weeks ahead as voters become more concerned with electability. Every poll shows him performing better than Gingrich in the battleground states and nationally. Notably, he defeats President Obama in New Hampshire by 9 points, whereas Gingrich loses there by 10 points. New Hampshire’s four electoral votes could be important in a tight race.

Ron Paul has surged in recent months in Iowa and, given his organization and the enthusiasm of his supporters, a victory there is not out of the question. The latest Des Moines Register poll has him at 18%, seven behind Gingrich and two ahead of Romney. He is currently in third place in New Hampshire with 16%. Paul may soon argue that he is the most electable Republican. In Iowa, he is the only candidate to tie President Obama at 42%. Romney, the second strongest challenger, loses the state’s six electoral votes to Obama by 7 points.

Michele Bachmann will gain some of Cain’s supporters and has some room to grow. Unlike Perry and Cain, her time as frontrunner ended less because of a series of mistakes, and more because other candidates simply took the spotlight. It is quite possible that her campaign could revive as she attacks Gingrich’s record.

Rick Perry is intensifying his campaign in Iowa but it will be very difficult for voters to overlook his past mistakes. With Cain gone, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman will have more time on the debate stage and may grow. Sarah Palin is singling Santorum out for “ideological consistency” and should she endorse him, he could surge in Iowa and South Carolina. Huntsman’s campaign is based on a strong performance in New Hampshire, where he is in fourth place with 9%. He will be having a Lincoln-Douglass style debate with Gingrich on December 12 that could give him some much-needed attention, depending on how many people watch it.

Herman Cain’s exit from the race is a great development for Newt Gingrich. With one less person on stage, it also provides an opening for Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman. Mitt Romney’s campaign is hurt, as it fears the anti-Romney vote coalescing around one candidate.

With less than a month before the January 3 caucus in Iowa, being patient is no longer an option for the candidates. The next forum is hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition and will be on Wednesday, December 7. Ron Paul has not been invited. This is followed by a debate on Saturday, December 10, which Huntsman has declined to participate in. The next debate is only five days later. The race is going into overdrive.

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