Herman Cain's had a bad couple of news days that may or may not ultimately throttle his candidacy, but in our polling over the weekend he was continuing to fly high. In North Carolina, which a month ago was the first state we found him leading in, he'd built on his support over the last four weeks. And in Maine he held a small advantage over Mitt Romney, showing the ability to challenge Romney even on his home New England turf.
In North Carolina Cain led with 30% to 22% for Newt Gingrich, 19% for Mitt Romney, 10% for Rick Perry, 4% each for Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, 2% each for Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum, and 0% for Gary Johnson.
In Maine Cain led with 29% to 24% for Romney, 18% for Gingrich, 5% each for Bachmann and Paul, 4% for Perry, 2% for Santorum, and 1% each for Huntsman and Johnson.
The North Carolina results are particularly worth noting because it's the first state we've polled twice since Cain began his surge in late September. Cain was at 27% on the first poll and expanded his support to 30% this past weekend. If anything those numbers suggest Cain was continuing to build momentum before the Politico revelations on Sunday.
If Cain's candidacy does implode in the coming weeks our numbers suggest the candidate poised to benefit the most is Newt Gingrich. In North Carolina he's the second choice of 29% of Cain voters, compared t0 16% for Romney, 15% for Perry, and 10% for Bachmann. In Maine he's the second choice of 26% of Cain voters to 17% for Romney and 15% for Perry.
It's no surprise that Gingrich would be the beneficiary of a Cain collapse, because Tea Party voters have been the foundation of Cain's surge and Newt polled second with that group of GOP loyalists on both of our polls over the weekend. In North Carolina 42% of Tea Partiers preferred Cain to 25% for Gingrich, 11% for Romney, and 10% for Perry. Gingrich's favorability with Tea Party voters there is 83/14 compared to 49/42 for Romney and 48/42 for Perry. In Maine 38% of Tea Partiers preferred Cain to 29% for Gingrich and 9% for Romney. There Gingrich's favorability with those voters is 75/19 to 53/36 for Romney and 35/47 for Perry. Tea Party voters like Gingrich far more than Romney and Perry so it stands to reason that if there is a Cain collapse, Newt will be the immediate beneficiary.
And there's plenty of reason to think that there will indeed be a Cain collapse. Cain may have led in these states over the weekend, but his support continues to be pretty soft. Only 46% of Cain's supporters in North Carolina and a paltry 25% in Maine said they were strongly committed to voting for him. A lot of Cain's supporters were already highly susceptible to abandoning him- whether the recent allegations cause them to do so is still anybody's guess.
Michele Bachmann has ceased to be relevant in this race while Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, and Gary Johnson never were. Beyond Cain and Gingrich the only other candidates who really seem worth paying attention to are Perry and Romney. Things just continue to get worse for Perry. In North Carolina he's dropped from 35% to 15% to 10% over the course of our last three polls. And his 4% standing in Maine is the worst he's done anywhere in our polling.
Even more problematic for him than his low level of support is how unpopular he's become with GOP voters- in Maine his favorability is 34/47 and in North Carolina it's 39/41. He's not going to get back into the race just because other candidates falter- his image has been hurt too much for that to be the case. He's really going to have to redefine himself in the eyes of the voters to get it turned around.
Romney meanwhile is showing slow progress in North Carolina. He's gone from 12% to 17% to 19% over the course of our last three polls. He's seen a similar steady improvement in his favorability numbers from +7 (45/38) to +19 (50/31) to +23 (53/30). In Maine Romney was at 15% when we last polled in March and is now at 24%. His improvement in Maine and North Carolina isn't the kind of fast moving, eye popping stuff we've seen for Donald Trump and Bachmann and Perry and Cain and maybe even Gingrich at various junctures of the race, but it's slow and steady and may put him where he needs to be in 2012...and that of course counts for a lot more than where he stands in November or August or April of 2011.
Full results here