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Herman Cain: What's behind his rise in the polls?

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Richard Drew/AP

(Read caption) Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, talks to the media after a meeting with real estate developer Donald Trump, Monday in New York.

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Herman Cain has leapt into the top tier of GOP presidential candidates, in case you haven’t heard. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday, Mr. Cain is tied with Texas Gov. Rick Perry for second, at 14 percent of Republican-leaning voters. That’s bad news for Governor Perry, but great news for the Hermanator, whose numbers have generally been described by single digits since the 2012 race began in earnest.

What’s going on here? Why the sudden rise? Well, for one thing, Cain appears to be the anti-Perry. That means that where Perry has declined since voters began to see and hear more about him in GOP debates, the opposite dynamic has occurred with the ex-Godfather's Pizza exec. He’s wearing well with the Republican base.

Look at the RealClearPolitics rolling average of polls, and you can see a clear upturn in Cain’s numbers starting about the middle of September, which is just when Perry’s polls began to sag. In particular, Cain’s rating has shot up in recent days, since he won a Sept. 24 Florida straw poll. Perry’s line has plummeted at the same time.

Confirmation of this comes with Gallup’s new Positive Intensity Score numbers, which are created by subtracting the percentage of strong opponents of a particular candidate from the percentage of strong supporters. Cain’s POS is now 30, the highest for any GOP candidate this year.

“Cain’s straw poll win, and his resulting gains in recognition and positive intensity, may have made him a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination in Republicans' eyes,” writes Gallup analyst Jeffrey M. Jones.

So what’s next? Is Cain going to peak and fade, as have both Michele Bachmann and Perry?

Cain himself pushed back against the idea Tuesday morning in an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”

“Black walnut isn’t a flavor of the week,” he said.

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But Cain now faces clear problems as he breathes the rarefied air of the GOP top tier.

The first is that he’s likely to get a lot more attention. That’s good, in the sense that his still-low name recognition will go up. But it could be bad if he gets the punishing attacks from GOP rivals that have nicked Representative Bachmann and (especially) Perry.

The media may also delve more deeply into his background. “Cain will have to weather the next few debates and the next few weeks of campaigning if he is to solidify a position as a leading contender for the nomination,” writes Mr. Jones of Gallup.

The second problem is how to expand his support in early primary states. Though data on this are sketchy, it appears much of Cain’s support comes from Southern states. A recent InsiderAdvantage survey showed him with a huge lead in his home state of Georgia, for instance – 41 percent.

In Florida, a SurveyUSA poll puts him right on Mitt Romney’s heels. The latter leads with 27 percent of the vote. Cain follows closely at 25 percent.

But what about Iowa, where next year’s caucuses will kick off the real voting? Currently, the RealClearPolitics state rolling average puts Cain in fifth in Iowa, with only 5.3 percent of the vote.

Cain’s numbers are even worse in New Hampshire. RCP puts him dead last there, as the choice of only 2.7 percent of voters.

Now, state polling can be much less accurate than national surveys, and some of the polls included in the Iowa and New Hampshire averages are dated. It’s possible Cain has already risen in the early voting states, and we just don’t know it yet. It’s also possible that Cain is simply something of a Southern favorite son candidate.


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