Cain Claims a Turnoff for Independents

Cain Claims a Turnoff For Independents; Ohio Elections Tough Tests for Obama, GOP; Hot Mic, Cold Shoulder; Holder Set for Hot Hill Grilling

GOP Can’t Win Without Blue Collar Independents

HERMAN CAIN: But you see, when I made the statement that I’m done talking about this, I’m talking about the firestorm last week, I’m not talking about this new firestorm that we discovered today. But no, we are gonna talk about this one and I am gonna talk about it at a press conference.

JIMMY KIMMEL: And if there are future firestorms, will you talk about them?

HERMAN CAIN: I will talk about any and all future firestorms, because here’s one thing people don’t know about Herman Cain: I’m in it to win it.”

-- Republican frontrunner Herman Cain appearing on ABC’s late-night talk show.

Here’s the challenge for Republicans: Blue-collar voters will be key to their efforts not only to defeat President Obama but to hold the House and take over the Senate.

But the crackup of Herman Cain’s candidacy may leave Mitt Romney as the last man standing and he is so far not well situated to grab the same votes that fueled Republican victories since 2008.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that while Romney would still do the best head-to-head with Obama, he is slipping, now trailing Obama by 6 points in a head-to-head matchup, a 4-point drop since last month. But more dangerous is how he scores with the most important part of any successful GOP electoral coalition. Even with Obama’s job-approval rating stuck at 44 percent, Romney is losing ground.

Says the Journal today: “white, working-class voters are ready to vote for an unnamed Republican over Mr. Obama by 48% to 36%, Mr. Romney finds himself deadlocked with Mr. Obama among that key demographic, 44% to 44%.”

The enthusiastic support of these voters – call them Reagan Democrats or conservative independents if you like – is the way the GOP wins. A Republican who ties Obama in this Demographic would get smoked.

So the question among Republicans is why they are not better situated against an incumbent with low approval, a dispirited Democratic base and three-quarters of Americans believing the country is on the wrong track?

It’s too soon to conduct a reliable head-to-head matchup survey, but this kind of gap and this much downward momentum for Romney suggests that the class-warfare attacks from the Obama Democrats could be working against the man the Blue Team is convinced will be the Republican nominee.

While Cain might have done better than Romney before the previous week of accusations and shifting responses from the campaign, the poll shows that the former restaurant executive and head of that industry’s lobbying group, has suffered what is probably a mortal wound to his general-election viability.

While Cain’s overall approval stayed essentially unchanged (though positive intensity lessened from last month) his negatives shot up from 19 percent to 35 percent – 5 points worse than Romney’s. Among Republican primary voters, the number went from 6 percent to 19 percent. In a general-election matchup (again, an unreliable predictor but valuable snapshot) Cain went from a deficit of 11 points to a deficit of 15 points.

Now, Romney can argue that he can find a way to connect with heartland voters and fire up conservative Republicans to go to the polls and Cain can argue that his latest approach to dealing with allegations of misconduct of a sexual nature will allay concerns among women and independent voters, but those are only campaign promises of a different nature.

Cain today will address directly the allegations of sexual assault and a quid pro quo sex-for-employment proposition leveled by a former employee of the restaurant group, Sharon Bialek.

Cain supporters are denouncing the accuser and attacking her motives. And Republicans loathe Gloria Allred and her knack for sinking GOPers (ask Meg Whitman and Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the egregious double standard compared to Democratic contender Bill Clinton in 1992. But unless Cain can produce evidence that overturns all of Bialek’s story, some of this will cling. And it’s not enough for Cain to deny her allegations of parked-car groping and head-grabbing, he will have to prove that he never had dinner with her alone or met her for a drink at a hotel bar.

It may have been wholly unprofessional for her to arrange a solo, out-of-town meeting with Cain and join him for drinks and an intimate dinner after accepting his “upgrade” of her hotel room, but the same would be true of Cain’s undertaking of those things. There’s a reason executives generally don’t behave like that. Even if you don’t misbehave, you have left yourself open to just such claims in a litigious and scandal-thirsty society.

With five accusers – two formal complaints and settlements at the restaurant association, a third employee who spoke anonymously to the Associated Press, a receptionist at an Iowa radio station and now Bialek – Cain says he is ready to confront new allegations head on. If you’re keeping track, this is the fourth response strategy in a week for Cain.

First was a blanket denial of any harassment or settlements, then came the acknowledgement of settlements and some specific allegations, then came an absolute refusal to answer any further charges with a taunting tone to reporters and now is the promise to answer “any and all future firestorms.” Even if he can credibly refute some or all of Bialek’s claims, Cain is offering an unhappy way forward for Republican voters.

Cain could have held one press conference early on or submitted to one searing interview last week in which he laid out his entire defense and then tried to move on. But rebutting individual accusations will turn Cain into a one-note candidate who is kaput with independent voters.

If Republicans want a way to beat Obama and win the Senate, they had better find a way to connect with heartland, blue-collar voters. The leaders of their pack aren’t doing that right now.

Ohio Scrimmage Will Measure Intensity, Attitudes

“What, you think I'm going to quit? You think I'm going to get weak? There's no way. We're going to listen to what the people have to say. Hopefully we win. If we don't, we'll move on.”

-- Ohio Gov. John Kasich quoted by the Columbus Dispatch talking to supporters in Summit County last week at a rally to defeat a union-backed measure to repeal a new law limiting the collective bargaining power of public unions.

There will be lots to consider in the results of today’s off-year elections. How did Republicans fare in legislative elections in swing state Virginia? How strong is Mississippi’s support for a tough pro-life measure? How successful will Kentucky Democrats be at distancing themselves from president Obama? Are New Jerseyans standing with the Christie Republicans?

But in Ohio, we get two tough tests for Republicans and Democrats. Rather than the inferred significance of the other states, the most important swing state of them all offers two referenda on core elements of the Democratic and Republican national platforms.

One measure is a union-backed referendum on a bill championed by Republican Gov. John Kasich in his first year in office. Kasich, after winning a narrow victory over incumbent Ted Strickland, put forward a bold plan to limit the collective bargaining power of government worker unions and to require state workers to pay 15 percent of their health insurance costs.

Unions have spent a huge sum to repeal the legislation in today’s vote and Kasich has campaigned relentlessly in defense of his plan. Polling has consistently shown the unions in the lead in a low-turnout election, but Ohio election officials today say turnout is running higher than expected, so it’s hard to say how those models will hold up.

But if unions can show muscle and organizational clout in must-win Ohio, it will be an encouragement to Democrats who are focusing on painting Republicans as being the party of the rich and opposed to the interests of the middle class.

The other measure is a question on a constitutional amendment similar to those approved by voters in Missouri and other states that would shield residents from the provision in President Obama’s health law that requires all Americans to either purchase private health insurance or be enrolled in a government program.

This measure is expected to succeed too. This isn’t strictly good news for Republicans who are moving closer to nominating one of the pioneers of mandatory health insurance, but it would be a powerful sign of the ongoing dissatisfaction with Obama’s signature accomplishment.

The Obama law has grown more unpopular since its passage in March 2010 and if Republicans mean to beat him, they will have to remind voters often that at a time when the economy was teetering, he undertook the creation of a large new entitlement that includes broad new government controls.

While Republicans may say that Obama will be disqualified for re-election as the only president to have seen unemployment over 8 percent for every month of his presidency, they will still have to say why that is so. The health law is a big part of that story.

Obama’s Hot Mic Will Leave Some Jewish Democrats Cold

NICOLAS SARKOZY: I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar.

BARACK OBAMA: You're fed up, but I have to deal with him every day.

-- Exchange between the French president and his American counterpart reportedly overheard by reporters when the leaders’ microphones were mistakenly left on after a press conference last week in Cannes.

The reports of President Obama commiserating with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about the “liar” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu come at an unhappy time for Obama.

He is currently trying to prevent a war between Israel and Iran and also trying to prevent fresh fighting between Israelis and Hamas-backed fighters from the Palestinian territories.

With Iran at the cusp of getting the bomb and the Palestinians end-running the peace process by seeking statehood at the U.N., both tasks look increasingly difficult. Obama seeming to tolerate Sarkozy’s attack on Netanyahu will only make it harder as an already skeptical Israeli government and public eyes Obama all the more warily.

But Obama is also trying to wring campaign contributions and swing-state votes from Jewish Democrats.

His endorsement of Israel returning to its borders before the Six-Day War and his previous snub of Netanyahu did little to warm the hearts of pro-Israel Democrats. With a Republican field that is enthusiastically pro-Israel it may be easier for some Jewish Democrats to sit out the election in places like, say, Palm Beach County, Fla. or Montgomery County, Pa.

There is a long streak of anti-Semitism in French history and Obama commiserating with the French president about the Israeli leader’s character will set of warning bells for many American Jews.

The next question is will audio of the exchange be released? We’ve only seen the recounting of the exchange from a French news blog and had it confirmed by a Reuters reporter, but tone and un-translated idiom matters here. Obama could have been warming up for a defense of Netanyahu or winding up to agree with Sarkozy, but a few translated lines can’t tell the tale.

The French press apparently was willing to sign off on an appalling non-disclosure agreement in which the six reporters who overheard the exchange promised not to repeat the exchange because it was so sensitive.

Will the (usually) less supplicant American press corps demand the audio?

Holder’s Senate Showdown Should be Fiery

“As someone who has seen the consequences of gun violence firsthand – and who has promised far too many grieving families that I would do everything in my power not only to seek justice on behalf of their loved ones, but also to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies – I am determined to ensure that our shared concerns about Operation Fast and Furious lead to more than headline-grabbing Washington ‘gotcha’ games and cynical political point scoring.”

-- Prepared testimony of Attorney General Eric Holder to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Attorney General Eric Holder is in trouble but he is hoping to save his job with his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

And while he will get plenty of tee shots in his questions from Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and his fellow Democrats, he is facing a murders row on the GOP side.

Holder is being called to testify about Operation Fast Furious, a bungled gunrunning sting that ended up dumping guns into the hands of Mexican drug cartels that have since been involved in U.S. crimes, including the murder of a federal agent.

The Republicans have a tough trio of former prosecutors and judges ready to tack Holder’s hide to the wall – Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Lindesy Graham, R-S.C. and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are not slouches either.

Holder is attempting a modified, limited hangout in which he acknowledges that mistakes were made but casts some blame on the Bush administration and focuses on the remediation of the program and the need to restrict the flow of U.S. guns to Mexico.

Republicans, though, will be focusing on the big questions what did Holder and President Obama know and when did they know it.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“[President Obama] needs a foil, a do-nothing Congress, and he has to make sure it does nothing. What he has done, Democrats are insisting on tax hikes, a hike in tax rates, not just the revenue, which Republicans would accept if you eliminate loopholes, a hike in tax rates, which he knows Republican will not accept unless it ends up in deadlock. And then he has a foil. That is what will happen and that is Obama's objective. He needs a Congress that will actually reject this.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing the debt-ceiling supercommittee.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on