Weigel

The Cain Surge is Good News for Romney

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks to the media outside of Trump Towers before a scheduled appearance with real estate mogul Donald Trump on October 3, 2011 in New York City. Cain, a fiscal and social conservative, won a recent Florida straw poll of Republican candidates. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

You might think that spin is obvious, but I assure you: It’s even more obvious than it seems. Public Policy Polling returns from the field in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Nebraska with news of a Cain surge. That’s an interesting trio of states to poll, because none have early primaries, and few candidates have visited them. According to the Green Papers, North Carolina has a May 8 primary, Nebraska has a May 12 primary, and West Virginia may, as it did in 2008, pick delegates at a convention. So this a pure test of GOP enthusiasm in the plains, the South, and Appalachia. The results, with trends:

North Carolina

Herman Cain - 27% (+19)
Newt Gingrich - 17% (+9)
Mitt Romney - 17% (+5)
Rick Perry - 15% (-20)
Ron Paul - 6% (-4)
Michele Bachmann - 6% (-2)
Rick Santorum - 2% (-2)
Jon Huntsman 2% (+0)

West Virginia

Herman Cain - 24% (+18)
Newt Gingrich - 18% (+7)
Mitt Romney - 16% (+2)
Rick Perry - 15% (-18)
Michele Bachmann - 8% (-3)
Ron Paul - 6% (-1)
Rick Santorum - 3% (-1)
Jon Huntsman - 1% (+0)

Could you imagine a better situation for Mitt Romney? Don’t say “leading in the polls” – no, Romney has benefitted all year from remaining un-flashy and un-frontrunnerish as the media has flitted from Trump to Bachmann to Perry to Christie. This is actually Romney’s ideal situation, with underfunded niche candidates fighting for the conservative vote, and his best-funded credible opponent cratering but still taking double digits. Moreover, Cain is clearly more inclined to send his supporters over to Romney than he is to send them over to any other candidate. How do we know? Cain endorsed Romney in 2008, for one (it was the thing to do in those anti-McCain months), and he’s been notably harsher on Perry than he’s been on Romney. Part of the reason – the aforementioned no-flash factor. Reporters aren’t asking Cain or anyone else questions about “Romneycare” anymore. All Romney needs to do is watch his rivals fight for scraps in Iowa, win New Hampshire, and win Florida, and then the under-funded, under-organized Cain campaign looks at its options for a Romney endorsement.

Oh, should we talk about my persistent belief that Gingrich isn’t actually surging? Clearly, he’s doing better in the polls. Republicans like his media-bashing; the media punishes Gingrich for this by showing up to his events and interviewing him. The truculent elder statesman who’s proposing a New Contract for America and promoting his wife’s children’s book is more acceptable to Republicans than the relevant politician who bashed Paul Ryan’s strategy. He’s basically ignored by his rivals, as is the custom for dealing with imploded candidates. But what’s the scenario in which Gingrich surges to leads in the early states and isn’t done in by his personal life or policy tests? There isn’t one.