Iowa: Cain 37, Romney 27, Paul 12, Gingrich 8

Remember when Iowa was going to be a battle between Perry and Bachmann for the conservative vote? He’s now at 5.9 percent, she’s at 3.9 percent. They’re barely ahead of Newt Gingrich — combined.

Cain by 10 with the caucuses just 75 or so days away. Unless he’s taken major damage over this week’s abortion kerfuffle, which I doubt, I don’t see why he can’t be this cycle’s Huckabee.

Minor caveat: The poll was completed before the Piers Morgan interview on abortion aired. Iowa conservatives weren’t happy about that, but Cain did some useful damage control today and has plenty of time to do more. Major caveat: The margin of error in this poll among likely Republican caucus-goers is, er, 7.4 percent. In no other poll does Cain lead by this much (his next highest total in Iowa is 30 percent), so it may be an outlier. But look at it this way: Even allowing for the maximum error here, he still leads Perry 30/13. Perry’s chances in New Hampshire are almost as dead as Bachmann’s right now, so he’s suddenly in a position of flaming out in not one but both of the two key early states. I don’t know how he’d recover if that happened. South Carolina would be his firewall, but the damage to his fundraising if he lost Iowa would be colossal and, per Giuliani’s 2008 “strategy,” campaigns that stake their viability on a single state a few weeks into the primary schedule aren’t good bets. South Carolinians would also have to think strategically if Cain won Iowa: By opting for Perry instead of Cain, they’d ensure a split in the “Not Romney” conservative vote that would probably guarantee Romney’s nomination. Which is why, while Perry can skip New Hampshire, I think he’s stuck having to compete in Iowa. Sooner or later he’ll have to suck it up and start attacking Cain in earnest.

Speaking of fundraising damage, a nifty graphic from National Journal about the fall-off in Perry’s cash haul once the debates got going:

Note how quickly Romney’s fundraising whirred to life once he finally had a credible challenger. He’s got an Iowa dilemma too now: If Perry continues to flail, shouldn’t he seize the opportunity by jumping in and trying to cinch the nomination with a win there too? Why, maybe he should

But their paid staff has increased from three to four since August, according to the Romney campaign headquarters, and an Iowa Republican official said that Romney representatives have blanketed the state to sign up supporters and stay in touch with backers from 2008.

“I’ve been amazed at how well they’ve been able to do it under the radar,” the Iowa GOP official said. “They cover a lot of ground. There isn’t a county event where they don’t have a guy there … making sure they are keeping their own people home so they don’t bleed support.”

“They know what they’re doing,” he said.

Four years ago, Romney received 25 percent of the caucus vote and came in second to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The result was disappointing because Romney had made a priority of winning the state. But if Romney could match that result or get close to it after having kept expectations low, it would be a win. And if he finishes ahead of Perry, it could be a fatal blow to the Texan.

Amazingly, none of the other candidates has any major organizational effort happening in Iowa. Romney could, very possibly, swoop in and blow the rest of the field away with an eleventh-hour effort. Dagger in the heart for the tea party.

Via the Daily Caller, here’s Coulter floating the idea of a Romney/Cain ticket. If Cain does win Iowa and, maybe, South Carolina, why shouldn’t he be on the ticket? He’s said he’s open to the idea of being VP; as the winner of two key early primaries, he’d be the preferred candidate for a lot of key Republican voters. He’d bring regional, religious, and racial diversity to a ticket with Romney. And as a Beltway outsider who connects with blue-collar voters, he’d defuse some of the Democrats’ attempts to demagogue Romney’s wealth.

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