Change: Cain now leads Perry nationally and in New Hampshire

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A new poll by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard University and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading the candidate field with 38 percent among likely voters in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. Businessman Herman Cain (20%) and U.S. Representative Ron Paul (13%) follow, with all remaining candidates polling at 5 percent or less…

“The real significant finding in this data is not so much who the frontrunner is at this point -Governor Romney has been the front runner in this field for a while -but who is NOT in the top tier,” said Patrick Griffin, Senior Fellow at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. “With Herman Cain showing surprising strength as the ‘Romney Alternative’ and a compressed primary schedule, Governor Perry may be running out of time in New Hampshire. There is a lot more riding on this Tuesday’s debate for Romney, Cain and Perry (in that order) today then there was yesterday.”

Perry clocks in at four percent, tied for fifth with Huntsman behind Romney, Cain, Paul, and Gingrich at five percent. Four percent is also what he polled in last week’s WMUR survey of New Hampshire likely voters, so in case you were thinking of discarding that one as an outlier, think again. This guy is, for the moment, on life support in one of the big five early-primary states; if he doesn’t start to rebound after tomorrow night’s debate, he’ll probably have to cut bait up north and focus chiefly on Iowa and South Carolina. That wouldn’t be a huge disaster insofar as New Hampshire was always going to be the toughest of the big five for him to win, but four percent — neck and neck with Huntsman — is pitiful. How pitiful? Check this out:

The great tea-party hope is a point behind Newt “Right-Wing Social Engineering” Gingrich … among New Hampshire tea partiers. And needless to say, Perry’s struggling nationally, too. According to the new poll from WaPo/Bloomberg, it’s Romney 24, Cain 16, and Perry 13. (Huntsman is at zero percent. No joke.) The good news there is that if Cain collapses, his support’s likely to stampede back to Perry and make it a race again. The bad news is, barring a catastrophic debate stumble, there’s no reason to think Cain will collapse. The more people get to know him, the more they seem to like him. In fact, here’s a telling data point from WaPo’s crosstabs. Remember how Perry’s big selling point against Romney, the self-styled “economy” candidate, was going to be Texas’s sterling jobs record? Status check:

Not only does he trail the two businessmen in the race on the most important issue, he finishes third behind only Bachmann and Ron Paul when voters are asked which candidate would do the most damage to the economy if elected. I assume that result is less a reaction to any specific Perry policy than evidence of the suspicion that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And of course, thanks to the Gardasil uproar, his “heartless” gaffe at the debate, and the news about the slur on the rock at his hunting camp, he’s been off-message on jobs for a full month. Tomorrow night’s debate, which is devoted exclusively to the economy, is his big chance to remedy that. If he blows it, what then?

One more data point from WaPo, just because it’s a hobbyhorse of mine:

Note the numbers among independents. The same poll now has a clear majority overall — 52 percent — saying it’s “very” or “fairly” likely that there’ll be another financial crisis in the banking sector a la 2008 over the next few years. In March 2010, just 42 percent believed that. I’ve made this point before so I won’t belabor it, but those numbers are another bit of evidence suggesting that voters might not punish Obama for the economy quite to the extent that we think. The more they believe America’s protracted economic malaise is part of a global “perfect storm” that’s beyond the ability of the feds to dissipate, the less eager they may be to turn to the GOP. It’s frankly amazing that those numbers among indies are as equivocal as they are given the sustained misery of the past three years. Maybe that’s Bush’s legacy weighing on them — the crisis first hit on his watch, after all — but maybe it’s something deeper, a conviction that changing presidents might help at the margins but ultimately won’t do much to hold back this tsunami.

Via Mediaite, here’s Herman Cain from a few days ago insisting that he’s prepared for the media’s gotcha questions about who “the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” is. That’s cute, but that’s not going to cut it against The One in a general election. It’s an opening for Perry going forward to draw a contrast on foreign policy and remind tea-party primary voters that electability does matter (albeit not as much as Romney would like them to think).

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