Yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain confirmed he is “reassessing” his campaign prospects in view of another accusation of an extramarital affair. Acquaintance Ginger White claims she had a 13-year liaison with Cain, this on the heels of several women claiming that he had sexually harassed them. Mr. Cain carried on in defiance of the original negative attacks but the fact that he is stepping back from his campaign, at least for a short time, indicates that this latest flap may deal a death blow to his presidential aspirations.
If so, how will his exit affect the Republican campaign, particularly when the candidates are fast approaching a most critical juncture? The Iowa Caucuses, now just five weeks away, could produce a defining result for the remainder of the race. If a candidate other than Mitt Romney wins the Iowa vote, then that person could well become his principal challenger. If Romney is isolated in a one-on-one race where his opponent is commonly viewed as being more conservative, that individual will likely win the nomination. Romney, who repeatedly breaks 25% in Republican primary trial heat polls only in New Hampshire, Michigan, and Nevada despite virtually all of those sampled knowing his name, has yet to solidify the front runner position. He benefits from a crowded field of opponents, each commanding the support of a similar-sized group of voters.
The latest Iowa public opinion polls show a very tight race among Romney, Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14). One recent survey showed the quartet of candidates to be within a four-point spread, with Cain topping the group (Selzer & Company, Nov. 10-12 – 503 self-identified Iowa Republicans planning to vote in their respective Caucus meetings: Cain 20 percent, Paul 19 percent, Romney 18 percent, Gingrich 17 percent). Obviously, an eventual Herman Cain withdrawal would have a significant effect upon the Iowa Caucus result and lead to an even more wide-open contest, if that is possible.
The typical Cain supporter is obviously conservative and clearly agrees with the retired business executive’s call to “shake-up Washington.” Therefore, more than likely, the majority of those Cain supporters sharing this mind-set would be attracted to a strongly conservative, non-Washington candidate. Therefore, the more moderate Gov. Romney is in poor position to attract the average Cain voter. Mr. Gingrich would certainly fit the ideological bill, but he is the consummate Washington insider. Rep. Paul probably strikes an economic chord with the Cain voting segment, but he has also been in politics a very long time and certainly does not share conservative views on foreign policy and many social issues.
Therefore, could this be the opening that Texas Gov. Rick Perry needs to restore credibility and return to the first tier of candidates, a la Gingrich’s return from the political ash heap? It’s hard see such a path for Perry right now, but the Texas governor probably blends best with those previously attracted to Cain. And, he still commands the financial wherewithal to communicate such a message.
In a race that has already seen so many twists and turns even before the first votes are cast, it appears that anything is possible. Should Cain retire from the campaign, the Iowa Caucuses become ever more important in determining the final course of this intra-party Republican presidential battle even though, today, the outcome is unclear.