Let’s start with this basic fact: Herman Cain isn’t the most likely person to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. That’s Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain gestures during a speech at the Values Voter Summit on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Here’s how — in three easy data points.

1. Cain is already top-tier: Cain has surged to 27 percent in a hypothetical national primary ballot test — up from just 5 percent in an August NBC-WSJ poll. His current standing puts him on par with Romney (23 percent) and makes clear that the two men comprise the top tier in the race as of today. That Cain’s rise has been fueled almost entirely by the struggles of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (Cain went up 22 points between August and October, Perry dropped by 22 points over that same period) is a dynamic that suggests Cain is now the conservatives’ choice in the contest.

2. Cain has room to grow: Nearly one in four Republicans (23 percent) in the NBC-WSJ survey didn’t know enough about Cain to offer an opinion on him. Just six percent had no opinion of Romney and 11 percent didn’t know enough about Perry to rate him. That means that Cain — unlike either of his two main opponents — still has a ways to go until he reaches his political ceiling. Combine that with the fact that the people who know Cain really like him (52 percent have a favorable impression,while just 6 percent have a negative one) and there’s clearly room for growth there.

3. Ideology trumps electability: A near-majority (46 percent) of Republicans said the most important thing to them in a presidential nominee was “a candidate who comes closest to your views on issues” while another 33 percent said they valued the “right personal style and strong leadership qualities” in a candidate. Just 20 percent said they preferred a candidate with the best chance to beat President Obama. It’s hard to argue that Cain is positioned anywhere but to the ideological right of Romney, putting him more in line with the average primary voter. And, while it’s somewhat debateable which of the two men have the “right personal style”, Cain is clearly the more charismatic of the duo.

That a path to victory exists for Cain does not mean he will take it, however. While Cain’s rapid rise is astonishing, it remains to be seen whether he can avoid the fate of other conservative flash-in-the-pans like reality star Donald Trump, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and even Perry.

To do so, Cain has to rapidly raise money — taking advantage of the positive buzz surrounding his candidacy — and build organizations that he currently lacks in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. (Cain has begun expanding his staff of late.)

The early returns are somewhere short of promising for Cain supporters. He is set to embark today on a two-day bus tour from Memphis to Nashville, according to the Post’s Amy Gardner. A trip to Tennessee — not an early state — is not the sort of thing a candidate working to build his credibility and electability would embark on.

If Cain grasps the chance afforded to him by his meteoric rise in polling to put together a serious national campaign in the coming weeks, the NBC-WSJ poll suggests he could be a real contender for the nomination. If not, he’ll look back on this moment as a huge missed opportunity.

What a December New Hampshire primary would mean: New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is suggesting he will set his state’s primary for early or mid-December, unless Nevada moves its caucuses from Jan. 14 to Jan. 17 or later.

And Nevada isn’t budging, with Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) telling Jon Ralston late Wednesday that Gardner is misreading his own state’s rules and could easily set the primary for Jan. 10.

But bluff-calling aside, what would a December primary mean?

Whether the Granite State’s primary is held Dec. 6 or Dec. 13, it would be held weeks before any other contest, with Iowa likely to pick Jan. 3 — an unusual set of circumstances to say the least. But it would be just another gap in an already pretty spaced-out primary season. There’s already a four-week gap between Florida on Jan. 31 and Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28, with just a few non-binding caucuses in between.

Unlike 2008, when the primary calendar began in early January and Super Tuesday was just one month later, this year’s contest could span three months between the first contest — if New Hampshire goes with December — and Super Tuesday, which will be held March 6.

That benefits whoever can run a sustained and well-funded campaign over a period of weeks in one state, and it puts a premium on strategy for candidates who will have a lot of time to spend in the earlier states.

While 2008 was bang-bang-bang through the first month, 2012 could give campaigns — and the press — a lot longer to process what’s going on. And that benefits the smarter campaigns.

Perry blames ‘twang’ for hunting camp story: In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Perry says media like the Washington Post are anxious to attach the “racist” label to anyone with a Southern accent.

The Post recently wrote a story about a hunting camp that Perry’s family leased with a racially insensitive name.

“I think a lot of people get offended when the media elites try to paint everyone from the South who has a twang to their voice as somehow being racist,” Perry said.

In the interview, Perry also acknowledged that he needs to improve his debate performances, as his wife, Anita, has suggested.

“I agree with my wife,” he said.


Cain acknowledges he misread early signs of the 2008 financial collapse and housing market crash.

Even though he’s not (officially) a candidate yet, the entire North Carolina GOP congressional delegation is backing former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory in the state’s governor’s race.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has a big fundraising lead — along with his big polling lead — in his reelection race next month.

Bachmann deflects when asked whether she would attempt a return to the House if she doesn’t win the GOP presidential nomination. But she has missed lots of votes.

Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) official website gets caught plagiarizing.

Nevada state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D) will run for Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley’s (D) seat.

Rhode Island’s Republican-senator-turned-independent governor Lincoln Chafee says Romney is unrecognizable.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who dodged a bullet when Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) opted not to run against him, has gone a step further in securing his future — raising a huge $1.6 million in the third quarter.


Obama campaign steps up attacks on Mitt Romney” — Michael A. Memoli, Los Angeles Times

Early New Hampshire primary could backfire on Romney” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Why some Democrats oppose Obama’s jobs bill” — Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

‘Super PAC’ American Crossroads seeks permission to feature candidates in ads” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post

The unsinkable Mitt Romney” — Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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The Fix: Why Herman Cain can win

Romney seen as the ‘inevitable candidate’

Obama plays defense on jobs bill with Senate Democrats