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First Thoughts: Why Cain?


Herman Cain (R) is in the spotlight in the GOP primary. He leads the field in the October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Why is Cain leading the GOP pack in new NBC/WSJ poll?... And why not Romney or Perry?... Some good news for Romney: He’s ahead of Perry in a two-way, 54%-39%, but the race narrows among high-interest GOPers and Perry leads among the most conservative… Obama leads in 2012 head-to-heads: Obama 46% Romney 44%, Obama 49% Cain 38%, and Obama 51% Perry 39%... But still tough headwinds for the president: 44% job approval, 39% economic approval, 17% right direction… Yet Obama can still raise money: $43 million for campaign and $27 million for DNC in 3rdQ, despite missing a month due to the debt-ceiling fight… Dems regain lead on generic ballot… And Scott Brown’s unforced error.

*** Why Cain? According to our new NBC/WSJ poll, Herman Cain now leads the Republican presidential field, getting 27% among GOP primary voters -- followed by Mitt Romney at 23%, Rick Perry at 16%, and Ron Paul at 11%. But why Cain? Our NBC/WSJ co-pollsters conducted follow-up interviews with Cain supporters and found two typical answers: 1) he’s not a politician, and 2) he’s real. “Cain is a good guy and so real,” said a male respondent from New Jersey. “Cain gives direct answers. He is succinct. He isn’t a politician,” added a male respondent from Washington. “He is plain-spoken and down to Earth,” said a woman from Texas. “It is kind of appealing that he is not in politics,” noted another female from Texas. “I have to be personally honest: I rely a lot on talk-show hosts, people I listen to and respect -- and they respect him. Rush Limbaugh, listen an hour a day,” said a female from Washington.

*** And why not Romney or Perry? “Romney’s Mormonism is kind of scary… Perry is just too much of a fundamentalist Christian for me,” said the man from New Jersey. “Romney is hypocritical. He is a New England politician, and that does not resonate with me… Perry’s debate performance in Florida was a disappointment. I did not like his position on illegal immigrants and funding their education,” said a man from Florida. “Both Romney and Perry are steeped in politics,” said the man from Washington. “I can’t support Romney in the primary because of RomneyCare. I liked Perry until I heard about the HPV vaccine,” said the female from Texas. “Romney has RomneyCare… Perry is a preacher, Romney is suave, and Cain is real,” added a man from Michigan. These are re-interviews with actual respondents, but think of them as more of a focus group…

*** Where Cain over-performs: According to the NBC/WSJ poll, this is pretty fascinating: Cain over-performs vs. Romney in the GOP horse race among high-interest Republican voters, men, those 55-plus, Republicans who have college educations, Tea Party supporters, and those who identify themselves as “very conservative.” Where Romney over-performs: less-interested voters, women, non-Tea Party Republicans, and moderate/liberal Republicans. In fact, re-read the responses from the RE-interviews: These are folks who ARE watching the debates and who are paying attention to the day-to-day campaign. These numbers are yellow flags that border on red for Romney. Why? He’s being propped up by folks who simply are familiar with him, not those who are actively following the campaign. Ouch.

*** Romney vs. Perry: But the poll isn’t all that bad news for Romney. His fav/unfav among Republicans, “very conservative” GOP voters, and Tea Party supporters is fairly high (though not as high as Cain’s scores). NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) said that Romney is “acceptable” to GOP voters, even if he might not be their first choice. Hart sums it up this way: “Can I live with him? Yes. Do I want him? Less so.” What’s more, Romney has a 15-point lead over Perry in a two-way race, 54%-39%. But there are two potential warning signs for Romney in that two-way match up. First, his 15-point lead shrinks to nine points (51%-42%) among high-interest GOP voters. And second, Perry actually leads by five points among “very conservative” GOP voters (52%-47%), who make up about a third of the GOP primary vote. If you’re the folks from Austin, that has to make you feel a bit better -- if they can climb out their hole.

*** Obama vs. the field: In hypothetical match-ups for the general election, President Obama is ahead of Romney by two points, 46%-44%, which is virtually unchanged from the last NBC/WSJ poll in August. Against Cain, Obama leads by 11 points, 49%-38%. And against Perry, the president is up by 12 points, 51%-39%. When paired against a generic Republican, 44% say they would “probably” vote for Obama, while 42% would “probably” vote for the GOP candidate. So Romney’s split -- compared with Perry’s and Cain’s -- more closely matches Obama’s performance against a generic Republican. And a final note for those who think that Obama’s base is abandoning him: 73% of Democrats and 78% of Democratic primary voters say they want the party to nominate Obama again. By comparison, in April 1995 (after the Oklahoma City bombing), 67% of Democrats said the same about Bill Clinton.

*** Still tough headwinds for the president: But Obama’s political standing isn’t markedly better since the end of the bruising debt-ceiling battle. His job-approval rating stands at 44%, which is unchanged from August; only 39% approve of his handling of the economy (though 61% approve of his terrorism handling); just 17% think the country is headed in the right direction; only 18% believe the federal government is working well or “okay”; and just 21% feel the economy will improve over the next year. Folks, these numbers are HARDENING; that’s not good for the president. Despite these headwinds -- and despite missing an entire fundraising month (due to the debt-ceiling fight) -- Obama can sure raise money. “President Barack Obama's campaign raised more than $70 million combined for his re-election and the Democratic party during the summer,” the AP says. “The numbers include $42.8 million for Obama's campaign and $27.3 million for the Democratic National Committee.” In the 2nd quarter, Obama’s take was $46 million for his campaign and $38 million for the DNC.

*** Democrats regain lead on generic ballot: Democrats now lead 45%-41% in the “generic-ballot” question on controlling Congress. That’s a 10-point swing from last month, when voters said they preferred Republicans to be in control by a 47%-41% margin. It’s also the largest lead Democrats have had in the question since Oct. 2009. One cautionary note about the generic ballot number: We’ve noticed it’s been somewhat volatile. We’ll be curious to see if this sustains itself beyond just one month.

Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain has taken the lead for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** On the 2012 trail: Romney delivers a speech on China and trade policy at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA… Huntsman campaigns in New Hampshire… Bachmann is in Iowa… Cain addresses Ohio Christian University in Circleville, OH… And Anita Perry campaigns for her husband in South Carolina.

*** Scott Brown’s unforced error: Per the Boston Globe, the Democratic Super PAC group American Bridge “unearthed a bit of inspirational autobiography on Senator Scott Brown’s official website that was lifted verbatim from Elizabeth Dole’s site, language that originated in a campaign speech.” More: “In a message to students, the Massachusetts senator uses the exact words as remarks delivered by the former North Carolina senator at her campaign kickoff in 2002. Brown’s staff acknowledged yesterday the words originally were Dole’s and said their presence in Brown’s message was the result of a technical error.” And: “Aside from the omission of an opening line – ‘I am Mary and John Hanford’s daughter’ -- in Dole’s speech, the Bay State Republican’s language is the same throughout.” The response from Brown’s campaign: “Senator Dole’s website served as one of the models for Senator Brown’s website when he first took office. During construction of the site, the content on this particular page was inadvertently transferred without being rewritten,” Donnelly said. “It was a staff level oversight which we regret and is being corrected.”

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Much more on the NBC/WSJ poll with pollsters Peter Hart and Micah Roberts… DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) on the outlook for 2012… Washington Post’s Scott Wilson on his “loner president” piece… More 2012 news with Bloomberg News’ Jeanne Cummings, former RNC Chairman/MSNBC’s Michael Steele and the Center for American Progress’ Jennifer Palmieri.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Chuck Todd (subbing for Andrea Mitchell) interviews political strategist Mark McKinnon, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Eugene Robinson, Ken Pollack (on the foiled Iran terror plot), Politico’s Josh Gerstein, National Journal’s Major Garrett, Tony Perkins (on religion and the 2012 race), and Time’s Joe Klein.

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 26 days

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