So if Herman Cain were to drop out of the race, which candidate would benefit from the remainder of his support base? The answer at this point appears to be none other than the surging Newt Gingrich — or at the very least, the general category of Anybody-But-Romney, and whoever its champion of the moment might be.
As we have often seen throughout the race, the Republican contest has gone through a cycle of one candidate or another gaining a sudden, massive amount of support against Romney, only to collapse when their various flaws have been exposed to the light of day. Previous examples of this boom-and-bust cycle have been Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and then Herman Cain. And all the while, Romney himself has been unable to catch fire.
Newt Gingrich is the latest candidate to surge. But as Charles Franklin has observed, his boom in the polls has been different, in that it does not owe to voters suddenly discovering him — he had high name recognition to begin with, warts and all. As such, it is possible that maybe, just maybe, he might not encounter the bust part of the cycle. (But then again, maybe he could crash after all.)
In short, the conventional wisdom appears to be that the fewer anti-Romney candidates splitting the vote, the worse things could be for Mitt.
But beyond the generalizations, recent survey data from Public Policy Polling (D) has shown a clearly delineated pattern — that among Cain supporters, Newt Gingrich has clearly been favored over Romney as a second choice.
• From a national poll of Republicans, two weeks ago: “There’s reason to think that if Cain continues to fade, Gingrich will continue to gain. Among Cain’s supporters 73% have a favorable opinion of Gingrich to only 21% with a negative one. That compares to a 33/55 spread for Romney with Cain voters and a 32/53 one for Perry.”
• From a week ago: “There’s reason to think Gingrich could get stronger before he gets weaker though. In Pennsylvania he’s the second choice of 49% of Cain voters to 10% for Romney. And in Arizona he’s the second choice of 39% of Cain voters to 10% for Romney. If Cain keeps going down, Gingrich is likely to keep going up.”
• And from a California poll, two weeks ago: “One thing the California numbers really point to is that if Cain’s support continues declining Gingrich has the potential to benefit in a major way. Among Cain voters 42% say Gingrich would be their second choice compared to 14% for Bachmann, 12% for Romney, and only 8% for Perry. Cain voters are fond of Gingrich, giving him a 60/30 favorability rating. Meanwhile they’re not too keen on either Romney (30/56) or Perry (32/54).”
Hmm, remember that oh-so-very chummy “debate” between Cain and Gingrich, back when Cain was a frontrunner and Gingrich was a nobody? Maybe all that friendly back and forth between these two guys is just what Newt needed.