Candidate Republican voters would most like to have dinner with? Herman Cain, of course

The only surprise in this poll is that he didn’t win it by 50 points. If the campaign was a contest of pure charm, the rest of the field would have already packed up and gone home.

I wonder which publication will be the first to try to spin this counterintuitively as proof of conservative racism. The “guess who’s coming to dinner” jokes are already flying on Twitter so the headline comes ready-made. Don’t let us down, New York Times.

According to the Clarus poll released Tuesday, 29% of self-described registered Republicans say they would like to dine with Cain, the businessman, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio talk show host, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 22%, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 17% and all the other candidates in single digits.

“This result is a good indication of Cain’s personal likeability,” said Ron Faucheux, president and chief analyst of Clarus Research Group. “Although it may just be an indication that Americans like pizza.”

Newt in second? Really? He’d make dinner interesting, but who wants to be lectured on Alvin Toffler while you’re trying to choke down a steak? I would have guessed that Perry, with his own easy charm, would nail down second place easily. The fact that he trails Romney in a basic test of personal likability feels … ominous. One would think that “authentic” candidates have a natural advantage in this metric; either that’s not the case or else Perry’s left a very different impression on voters than he meant to.

Over at Gallup, Cain’s unsurprisingly leads the field with a favorable rating of 74/16. Romney trails by eight and Perry by 14. And that’s not all:

No contest — and, significantly, those numbers come as Cain has raised his name recognition to 78 percent, which is roughly on par with Romney and Perry. His huge favorables aren’t, in other words, a product of people not knowing who he is and giving him the benefit of the doubt. They know him now and they still like him, a lot, which makes Perry’s task of winning back the voters he lost to Cain potentially much harder than people assume. It’s easy to dump a guy you’re backing as a “none of the above” option when you see someone more appealing come along, but Cain isn’t really a “none of the above” option anymore. How do you dislodge support from a candidate who’s +58 in net favorables without going very, very negative?

Here’s Cain on the Michael Berry Show earlier today talking about the political ad heard ’round the world. Do note, incidentally, that not only did Gingrich finish second to Cain in the dinner poll, he’s now third (behind Romney and ahead of Perry) in Gallup’s measure of favorable ratings. We might be on the brink of a Newt bubble after all.