Fox News poll: Romney 23, Perry 19, Cain 17

“Essentially a three-way tie.” Last month, Perry led Romney 29/22 with Cain gasping along at six percent. This is what happens when the big takeaways from your debate performance are (a) you hate your own base and (b) you sound brain damaged.

Cain has benefited not only from his debate performances, but also significant media attention after winning the Florida Republican Party’s straw poll on Saturday.

Perry now garners 19 percent, a drop of 10 percentage points from a month ago. That puts Romney back in the top spot with the support of 23 percent. Last month Romney was at 22 percent.

Newt Gingrich recovered some ground and now stands at 11 percent. Ron Paul receives the backing of 6 percent now compared to 8 percent before the September debates.

Bachmann registers 3 percent support, down from 8 percent in late August and a high of 15 percent in July.

Not to take anything away from Cain, but a chunk of those new supporters are surely coming from voters who have grown dissatisfied with Perry and Bachmann (who’s clearly done) and are turning to the other strong charismatic tea-party conservative in the race. That’s as bright of a green light as Palin could possibly get to jump in. If she enters, she’d fill that same “outsider” niche as Cain but with a vastly greater amount of star power and name recognition. With support for the top tier this soft, there’s really no reason she couldn’t be neck-and-neck with Romney the day she entered. Her problem is that the time pressure she’s facing is about to get more intense: Florida’s on the verge of moving its primary up to January 31, which will have a cascade effect in forcing Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to move up too. Instead of the caucuses being held the first week of February, they’re more likely to happen the first week of January. Losing a whole month of catch-up time when she’s trying to get organized in Iowa and South Carolina will hurt. Better move soon.

Incidentally, this isn’t the only new poll in which Romney now leads. He’s up six points on Perry in Florida according to PPP (49 percent of Floridians disagree with his “Ponzi scheme” comments versus 37 percent who agree) and he’s up six points on Bachmann in Iowa(!) according to ARG, with Perry now in third. Much depends on how many resources he’s willing to plow into Iowa, but as Bachmann withers and doubts about Perry metastasize, it’s not inconceivable that Romney could … run the table. Imagine it. The part I’m most looking forward to is Paul Ryan, erudite critic of ObamaCare, delivering the keynote at the Republican convention right before we nominate the guy who inspired ObamaCare as our nominee. No, scratch that — the part I’m most looking forward to is how it’ll instantly become a grave sin against conservatism to criticize a guy whom we’ve dumped on for years as King RINO once he’s the nominee. In other words, McCain redux. Fantastic.

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