The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll is one of the better media polls. This morning they show Herman Cain leading by one point over Mitt Romney:
The power of Cain’s likability has vaulted him to the top of The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll, with 23 percent of likely caucusgoers saying he is their first choice. The durable Romney, on part two of his presidential quest, coasts in with 22 percent.
The former Massachusetts governor earns the support of just 10 percent of those who say they definitely plan to vote in the caucuses (Cain is at 27 percent). And Cain dominates Romney among those who identify themselves as very conservative, by more than 3 to 1.
Another factor favoring Cain over Romney: More than half of likely caucusgoers think a representative of the core conservative base can win the White House in 2012. Only a third see a need to select a more moderate candidate with appeal to independents.
It’s not too surprising to see the other candidates–none of whom is even close to being as impressive as 2008 first-time presidential candidates and Democratic also-rans Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd or Joe Biden–bounce up and down in the polls. Few people outside their home-states knew much about Rick Perry or Herman Cain or Rick Santorum prior to them running for president. But Romney ran for president in 2008, spent tens of millions of dollars and got more votes than everyone except John McCain. Since voters already know him there’s little reason to think he’ll benefit from a big surge of support based on people liking him and wanting him to be the nominee. His best bet is that the rest of the candidates split the votes between them or that Romney benefits from an “anybody-but-that-candidate” surge. But if there’s going to be that kind of surge, it’s as easy to imagine it being against Romney as one that benefits him.
It’s imperative a campaign have a sound caucus organization to scoop up the support of delegates whose first choice doesn’t clear the 15% threshold and who then have to choose a second choice. Romney’s campaign is the most capable of putting together a sound ground game (although he’s currently holding back from investing resources and political capital in trying to win Iowa).
But even if Romney does go for the win in Iowa, he may simply have too low a ceiling to pull it off. At this point in 2007 Romney lead the Iowa Poll with 29%–7 points better than his percentage in this latest poll. On caucus night he performed worse than he had polled in October:
On paper Romney seems the most likely nominee, in part because prior to this election none of the other candidates would have seemed a plausible nominee. [By the way, Ron Paul finished third in the new poll with 12%, better than he performed in 2008.] It’s just hard for me to wrap my head around the possibility that Herman Cain or Rick Perry or–gasp–Newt Gingrich could be the Republican nominee. But with Mitt Romney languishing and a GOP electorate hostile to what they perceive as technocratic, moderate elitists, it’s just as hard to wrap my head about the possibility that a plurality of Republican voters want Mitt Romney as their presidential nominee.