In case you thought the PPP poll was a fluke, rest assured that he really is the frontrunner now.

In the previous survey, conducted in late August, Perry led the field at 38 percent, Romney stood at 23 percent, while Cain was at only 5 percent.

Cain’s numbers are sky-high among Republican primary voters. Fifty-two percent view him favorably, versus just 6 percent who see him unfavorably. Among Tea Party supporters, his favorable/unfavorable score is 69 percent to 5 percent. And among Republicans who identify themselves as “very conservative,” it’s 72 percent to 2 percent.

In follow-up interviews with respondents supporting Cain, they argue that he’s not a politician, and that he seems real. “He has common-sense answers and is in touch with the heartbeat of America,” said one respondent, a 46-year-old male from Florida…

Despite Cain’s rise and Perry’s fall over the past month and a half, Romney’s standing in the Republican horse race hasn’t changed—it was 23 percent in August, and it’s unchanged at 23 percent now.

Perry’s lost 22 points since the last poll — and not a single one went to Romney. That’s how reluctant base voters are to back him over some other conservative in the field. The good news for Romney is that he still has an electability argument against Perry. His favorables are 27/29 overall and he trails Obama by just two points head-to-head. Perry’s favorables are 19/36(!) and O leads him by an even dozen, 51/39, in a hypothetical match-up; Perry also trailed Obama by double digits in Rasmussen’s latest poll released this morning. (Cain’s favorables are 24/18 but, being mostly unknown, he trails Obama 49/38.) More interesting are the numbers for Romney and Perry among Republican voters. Mitt, the great RINO flip-flopper, has a favorable rating of 51/16 compared to just 43/23 for Perry. Even Gingrich, at 49/23, does better than that. Romney also beats Perry head-to-head, 54/39, and incredibly leads him ever so slightly when Republicans are asked how much a candidate shares their position on the issues. Here’s Romney’s line on that:

The first column is the number who rate him as “very good” (5 on a scale of 5), the second column is 4 on a scale of 5, etc. Here’s Perry’s line:

Amazing given that the whole reason Perry got into the race was because the base wanted a “Not Romney” who … shared their positions on the issues! Even more inexplicably, compare how Perry’s key vulnerability fares among Republicans with Romney’s key vulnerability. The “Ponzi scheme” rhetoric is no problem — in the primary, that is:

What is a problem, despite Chris Christie’s insistence that it’s intellectually dishonest to compare RomneyCare to ObamaCare, are health-care mandates at the state level. Here’s how primary voters responded when asked, respectively, whether a particular position makes them much more likely, somewhat more likely, somewhat less likely, or much less likely to vote for a candidate:

And here’s what they said about Romney specifically:

Not only is this issue toxic with Republicans, it’s become more toxic over the past three months — and yet Romney still clobbers Perry head to head. I wonder why. Could … this explain it? (Again, the columns represent much/somewhat more likely and somewhat/much less likely.)

Given Perry’s trajectory, the only path he has now to the nomination is by completely backing into it. Cain has to implode somehow, possibly by showing that he has less of a grasp on the issues than Perry (which wouldn’t be easy at this point), and then Perry would have to convince wary Republicans that Romney’s health-care heresy is so grave that it’s worth nominating him even though Romney’s better liked by the general electorate and almost certainly more electable against Obama. Good luck.

There’s actually quite a bit of good news for Obama in this poll too — the public supports his jobs bill, 63/32, supports raising taxes on “the wealthy” and corporations, 64/31, and supports Occupy Wall Street 38/17 — but I want to end on a positive note so I’ll leave you with two encouraging data points. One: On the question of whether people “feel comfortable” with Romney and don’t worry that his Mormonism will influence his decisions, the split among the general public is 47/21. Among Republicans, it’s 66/13. And two: You know that Mediscare campaign that Democrats are preparing to roll out next fall? It’s not as much of a winner as they might wish. Behold the results when voters are asked whether the issue would make them much/somewhat more likely to vote for a candidate or somewhat/much less:

Paul Ryan 1, Obama 0?