In each of the first six debates of the Republican presidential race, Herman Cain has been an afterthought — on the receiving end of few questions from the moderators and virtually ignored by his better-known and -financed rivals.

Businessman Herman Cain has rapidly risen into the top tier of the 2012 Republican presidential field. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Polling makes clear how much Cain’s position in the race has improved since the candidates last gathered in Orlando late last month.

A new Gallup national poll puts Cain in a statistical dead heat with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for first place. And in New Hampshire, Cain has moved into second place behind Romney, according to a new poll by Saint Anselm College and the Harvard Institute of Politics.

Cain’s newfound prominence is further affirmed by his central position on the debate stage itself — sandwiched between Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

If Cain’s top-tier status is without question, what he will do with it in tonight’s debate is very much up in the air.

Cain can be a dynamic presence with his rhetorical gifts and ability to turn a phrase. But he can also fall too much in love with his knack for candor. Remember that Cain asserted he wouldn’t let a Muslim serve in his presidential cabinet during the last debate in New Hampshire. He later recanted.

“Some folks think Herman Cain is merely a good talker and the flavor of the month. Wrong,” said Curt Anderson, a media consultant who worked for the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO during the 2004 Senate primary in Georgia. “This guy is the real deal, he has the courage of his convictions, he has integrity, and he knows what he believes.”

(Sidebar: The Fix declared Cain the latest “flavor of the month” in a column earlier this week. Anderson was kind enough not to call us out by name.)

What does Cain need tonight to ensure that he isn’t forgotten by the time the next debate rolls around?

Sound smart on the economy, said Georgia-based Republican consultant Paul Bennecke. “He needs to provide substance and explain how his plan will fix the economy and create jobs,” explained Bennecke. “If he can do that, then he might remain a relevant part of the campaign.”

Republican voters seem ready to believe Cain knows what he is talking about when it comes to the economy. In a new Post-Bloomberg national poll, 20 percent said he would do the m,ost to improve the economy — just behind Romney who led the way with 22 percent.

Cain has done well — generally — in the debates so far, but he has never had to deal with the level of scrutiny from both the moderators and his opponents that will come his away tonight.

Asked about that raised level of scrutiny in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody on Friday, Cain responded: “When they ask me who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know? And then I’m going to say, ‘How’s that going to create one job?’”

Um, OK.

What Cain does with his moment tonight will determine whether this is the beginning of a long run at (or near) the top of the field for him, or the beginning of the end of his moment in the spotlight.

Romney defends Wall Street amidst protests: It’s not quite “corporations are people,” but it’s close.

For the second time, Romney has put himself in the position of defending big business against populist sentiment.

This time, he’s criticizing the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters by saying they are looking for “scapegoats to attack.”

“Don’t attack a whole class of Americans, whether they’re rich or poor, white or black,” Romney said at a town hall, according to The Hill. “This isn’t the time for divisiveness.”

Added Romney:

* “Let’s not fight any street in America.”

* “Wall Street is connected to Main Street.”

* “I consider the CEOs of organized labor not to be my big buddies. I consider the rank-and-file of organized labor to be my buddies.”

Romney joins Cain in hitting back against the protesters.

Walker recall in works: Democrats in Wisconsin have announced their plans to launch a recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker (R) for his controversial law ending collective bargaining for many public employees.

A political action committee, United Wisconsin, has been set up by Walker opponents for the campaign. They plan to file paperwork and start gathering petitions on Nov. 15, giving supporters until Jan. 13 to collect over 540,208 signatures. Should the effort succeed, an election could be held as early as next spring.

Walker’s chief of staff has already stepped down to help fight the recall.

What will happen is anyone’s guess. While Democrats and their allies in labor failed to take back the state Senate in recall campaigns this summer, they did defeat two Republican state senators. And Walker continues to be very unpopular in the state.

About tonight: If you want more information about tonight’s debate, see here.

The debate will be streamed live on the Washington Post’s website, along with on Bloomberg TV, and WBIN-TV in New Hampshire.

And as always, we encourage Fix readers to watch the debate on our live blog page, where we’ll have the live stream on top of a real-time conversation with readers about what’s going on.


Jon Huntsman lays out his foreign policy vision.

Huntsman: The Mandarin Candidate.

So who are those unidentified Cain advisers?

Both Newt Gingrich and Gary Johnson want Johnson invited to tonight’s debate.

Romney gets endorsements from former senators Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).

Richard Land backs up Romney, but agrees that Mormonism isn't Christianity.

Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) considers filling Democrats’ recruiting hole in the state’s open Senate race.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is outraised by his primary opponent, state Rep. Joaquin Castro.


New Hampshire’s contrarian streak” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Romney and Cain: It’s complicated” — Katrina Trinko, National Review

In Iowa, Religious Right Is Now a Force Divided” — Trip Gabriel, New York Times

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.