These conclusions are inspired by a new CBS News Poll. Here is their clear summary of the results:
The field of Republican candidates now has three candidates within striking distance of each other at the top of the list: with 18 percent, Herman Cain is in the top spot, followed by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich with 15% each. Support for both Cain and Romney has declined since late last month, and Gingrich is the only one of the top three whose support is steadily - if slowly - on the upswing.
Cain has lost support among women since late October. Then, he led among women, garnering 28 percent of their support. Now, his support among women is just 15 percent. He has also lost ground with conservatives, from 30 percent to 23 percent now. And there has been some movement among Tea Party supporters as well; their support for Cain has declined from 32 percent to 19 percent. Romney has lost support among men, while Gingrich's support among that group has increased eight points.
A few points of interest: Undecided, at 17 percent, actually runs second to Cain, and “someone else” is at 14 percent, just behind Gingrich and Romney. Together, that’s 31 percent, meaning that Republicans are clearly pining for other choices. Tim Pawlenty must regret dropping out. My hunch is that this would be his turn. (Rounding out the field: Rick Perry is at 8 percent, Ron Paul at 4, Michele Bachmann at 4, Rick Santorum at 2 and Jon Huntsman at 1.)
This race just stays in flux. Gingrich and Romney are tied, which is quite astonishing, given that Romney is supposed to be the front-runner. The resistance to Romney in Republican ranks is the one constant trend in the polling. Based on Romney’s debate performances (and the excellent reviews they have gotten from the media, including some conservative writers), you would imagine Romney doing better than this.
Note also that for all the talk about the sexual harassment charges not hurting Cain, they are. The drop from 28 percent to 15 percent among women is huge. I suspect that his juvenile (and, yes, sexist) “Princess Nancy” comment about House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi won’t help him on this front, and Cain’s later expression of regrets won’t help him much.
So here’s one question: Gingrich lost a lot of his campaign operation earlier this year and it’s not clear how quickly he can ramp up his organizing efforts in Iowa. The obvious Gingrich strategy is to try to win the Iowa caucuses, since caucus attendees are more conservative than Republicans as a whole and include a lot of Romney-resistant righties. Can Gingrich get an organization together to scoop up straying Perry and Cain supporters?
Here’s another question: Normally, it would be too late for someone else to get in. But there is clearly space here for another candidacy. Write-in campaigns were once common in New Hampshire, though a long time ago. Henry Cabot Lodge won the 1964 Republican primary in New Hampshire, beating Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, on the basis of a write-in campaign organized without his approval (or disapproval) while he was our Ambassador to South Vietnam. Will there be a Draft Daniels – or Christie or Portman – write-in effort?
Last question: The conventional wisdom is that Republicans will eventually fall into line behind Romney. That makes sense in principle. But when will we actually see evidence that this is happening?