The Herman Cain Boom Explained; Anti-Obama Dems Get Roadmap in W.V. Win

The Worse for Obama, The Better for Cain

“I don’t think the major problem is that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. I think the problem is keeping it from becoming a Perry scheme.”

-- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney staying on the attack against third-place Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a campaign appearance at The Villages retirement community in Florida.

President Obama’s stimulus and tax package is being blocked in the Senate by a filibuster from his own party, big donors are shying away and he has yet to find bottom in his five-month slide in the polls.

This has conservative Republicans thinking that maybe now would be a good time to try something different: nominating someone they actually like. And so, their gaze has fallen on Herman Cain, a Tea Party guy, a populist, a businessman, somebody with a sense of humor and the first-ever serious black contender in the Republican history.

If Obama can’t win no matter what, why shouldn’t the Republicans have a nominee who pleases them instead of placates them? Rep. Michele Bachmann has not been able to revive her own campaign, which is unlikely to recover from her decision to be an attack-dog candidate, but she certainly is in tune with the Republican zeitgeist with her current campaign theme of “don’t settle.”

Rather than taking one of the governors laden with baggage from their political careers and who have spent two months torching each other, many conservatives are thinking that now is the time for a fresh start. The same populist energy that put Mike Huckabee in contention in 2008 and that has helped drive the Tea Party movement has deep disdain for career politicians and country club Republicans. That has been bad news for the Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll, out today, shows Cain in second place in the field with 18 percent of the national GOP vote.

While Romney has regained his footing after seeing his support shrink during the four-week Perrypalooza in August and September, the former Massachusetts governor has only been able to get back to slightly less than his original share of the electorate.

Romney was at 28 percent in the Quinnipiac poll in July, got shoved down to 20 percent during the Perry surge and has now returned to 24 percent. With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrapping up his final flirtation with a run, Romney should be able to continue to consolidate his support among costal moderates. But there is no sign yet that the base of the party is ready to fall in line.

Though Wednesday's Perry campaign announcement of pulling in an impressive $17 million in second quarter fundraising may allay some fears, overall the campaign has been in free fall. He made it into double-digits on pre-announcement hype in July, blasted to the lead with 26 percent after his August debut but is now at 15 percent, 3 points behind Cain. Unanswered for Perry is whether he can endure in the top tier, or if Republicans have written him off as too weak in debates and too soft on immigration to be a viable opponent for Obama.

Erstwhile Perryites have headed over to Cain, but others have slid to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who, like Cain, has resisted the impulse of to do what Bachmann and former Sen. Rick Santorum have done in spending too much time on intramural attacks. Republicans are interested in hearing who will beat Obama, not seeing their own dirty laundry constantly aired, especially on narrow points of policy.

But Cain gets the extra edge from the blank slate he brought to the process. Aside from one Senate run and some time on the board of the Kansas City Federal Reserve, Cain has not been involved in government. He’s not had any awkward votes or endorsements (except for maybe Romney in 2008). Add to that Cain’s embrace of a national sales tax, the top issue for a small but committed group of GOPers including Huckabee, and you have something far more than a flavor of the month.

But, what happens if Obama starts to get up off the canvas? The president is already building his comeback narrative – the “underdog” who battles back for blue-collar America. And as appalled as the establishment press has been by Obama’s lack of political gifts and frequent missteps (especially since they were the ones primarily responsible for creating the mythos), they will be there to help the story line along.

It’s been hard for Democrats to admit that the man who was once their champion is now all in tatters. But the president has embraced that line and, like that commercial for Chrysler about defeated Detroit rising again, Obama wants to be the one now staging a defiant comeback.

Obama aims to be the personification of a declining power that is turning itself around. It’s a breathtaking electoral strategy and very risky given the shrunken electoral map Obama must face. Obama is betting that if he rights himself in the Rust Belt, he can block his eventual Republican foe since Ohio has been the make-or-break state for GOP nominees in every election since 1964. But if Ohioans see Mr. Malaise instead of a comeback kid, it will be all over the president.

Democrats, though, know that given lots of money, riled up liberal activists and union members ready to take to the streets, it will be possible to turn the 2012 election into a dispiriting affair for the American people. Swing-state residents can prepare themselves for airways saturated by attack ads and mailboxes overflowing with political junk mail. Add to that picture, Tea Party protesters clashing with Van Jones and others calling for a national uprising against the wealthy and you get the image of some very dark days a year from now.

The best Democratic hope now is that independents will throw up their hands with disgust and stay away. Obama doesn’t necessarily need to win their votes as he did in 2008. He just needs them to not go for the GOP as they did in 2010. Constant clashes between partisan extremes and a toxic political atmosphere seems unlikely to spur massive turnout in the middle.

It’s in this kind of tumultuous environment that Obama would be best able to assume the role of calm commander for an anxious nation. Republicans might be less happy then to have a novice candidate – especially one with the thinnest portfolio on foreign policy in the GOP field – going toe to toe with Obama.

Republicans have been saying for years that it was a mistake to elect someone with so little experience on the basis of big promises and stirring speeches, but after four years of on-the-job training, the president would be able to swiftly turn that very argument on Cain.

Some in the Republican universe hope that Cain would benefit from the same kind of kid-glove treatment that Obama received because the former pizza CEO is also black, but that’s not how it works. There will only ever be one “The One.”

If Obama can start to mount his turnaround before the end of the year, Republicans will have to take fresh looks at Romney and Perry. Settling for less than conservative purity seems foolish when Obama looks like a sure loser. But if the election looks like it might be close, experience, fundraising and organization will regain their currency on the right.

While Romney certainly has the core support and deep pockets to make it to New Years’ Day to cash in his bet that the Republican right would never unite, Perry’s status is questionable. If the Hermentum endures for even another month, Perry could be culled from the herd.

And that’s why Romney is mostly ignoring or even praising Cain. The longer the boom lasts, the better it is for Romney.

West Virginia Offers Hope for Red State Dems

“The people of West Virginia saw through the millions of dollars in outside money sent from the wealthy and corporate special interests to influence this election. Instead, they voted for Governor Tomblin—someone who, like President Obama, has his eye on the ball—working to create jobs, educate children and win the future.”

-- Statement of congratulations from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

West Virginia Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin almost got sucked into the anti-Obama vortex in his state, but survived to win a narrow victory in a special election to complete the final year of now-Sen. Joe Manchin’s gubernatorial turn.

While Tomblin benefited from distancing himself from President Obama and an important late-cycle television ad in which the immensely popular Manchin blessed his successor’s candidacy, the most important thing that Tomblin did was maximize the turnout in the traditionally Democratic precincts of his state.

While Republican Bill Maloney preformed as well or better than expected in the northern parts of the state (excluding Manchin’s home county of Marion), Tomblin squeezed out a remarkable number of votes from the shrinking, union-dominated counties in the southern third of the state. The race shouldn’t have been this close for a well-funded Democrat backed by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, but Tomblin found enough cushion in the state’s 2-1 Democratic registration advantage to pull out the win.

West Virginia politics has been a north-versus-south affair since 1871 when unreconstructed Confederates had their voting rights restored, and while the north has been on the upswing in recent cycles, the south (with the help of notherner Manchin) had its revenge on Tuesday.

While Obama may be just as wickedly unpopular south of U.S. 60 as he is in the rest of the state, there are troves of government workers and union retirees in the southern counties who are not voting for any Republican businessmen from up North against one of their own from Logan County.

It’s a playbook that embattled Red State Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri can learn from: step away from the president and then work like the dickens to get base voters to the polls.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“He can't run on the stewardship. Obviously he has the worst unemployment of any. No president ever won with the unemployment over, I think, 7.8 percent. He is going to be around nine percent. Nobody has ever done that. He has to do it. The only argument is the other guys are bad guys, really bad guys. It isn't only that Republican ideas are bad, but they don't like you and they won't care about you.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.