Why the Sexual Harassment Controversy Hasn't Derailed the Cain Train

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 3, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And now to the fiery hot race for the GOP presidential nomination. Speaker Newt Gingrich's supporters are saying, "Watch out." The Speaker is now seeing a mild surge in the polls. And a sexual harassment scandal doesn't seeming to stopping Mr. Herman Cain's campaign. The latest Rasmussen poll puts Mr. Cain on top. Governor Mitt Romney's in second place, followed by Speaker Gingrich.

And Time Magazine's deputy Washington bureau chief, Michael Crowley. joins us. Michael, nice to see you. And what do you make of the fact that now Mr. Herman Cain on top -- it's a telephone poll, a little bit different than other polls, but nonetheless, he's on top of this one?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, hi, Greta. Thanks for having me. It's a remarkable thing. I think it's further evidence that, you know, everything about this campaign -- you know, there was a line from that Internet video that got so much attention, where Cain's chief of staff was smoking a cigarette and there was a lot of controversy about that. But the line at the end of that was the country had never seen a candidate quite like Herman Cain.

And I think this is further evidence that Cain actually seems to be kind of defying the laws of politics in various ways. So he's leading the polls in Iowa, despite the fact that I don't think he's been there in a month. And his supporters for the moment don't seem to be terribly troubled by these mounting allegations.

I will say I think that could change. I don't think this story's going away any time soon, and I think it is getting worse and I don't think he's handling it well. However, there does seem to be some resilience in his support, and it's a remarkable thing.

VAN SUSTEREN: I always think the polls, when you see the situation like this, when, you know, the pundits or the journalists or all of us are sort of aghast at different things or suspicious of things -- when the polls suggest something different, I always think it's a message that we don't get it.

CROWLEY: I think you're right, Greta, and I think that -- you know, the thing -- and I say this intuitively and anecdotally from talking to Cain supporters. I've gone to some of his events. One of the things that really attracts people to Herman Cain is he really strikes them as an outsider. He's not part of the system. He's not part of the establishment. He's different. His style is different. His background is different.

Now, in truth, he's got a little more Washington experience than I think he likes to let on. But I think that it's part and parcel of that, that there's a sense that he is an outsider who wants to change Washington, stick it to Washington, and that Washington is fighting back.

Now, I don't think that's entirely accurate, but I would say that I suspect that is part what is, you know, keeping him aloft right now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Meanwhile, while all the attention is on Mr. Herman Cain, it seems like Speaker Gingrich is sort of slipping up the side, almost like a -- reminds me of sort of the Kentucky Derby, the horse that's sort of sneaking up the side that people aren't paying attention to. But he's moving up. Now, he's not hugely moving up, but he's moved up to third place.

CROWLEY: Yes, Greta, and what I would say about Newt is that I he has put himself in a position to capitalize. If Herman Cain -- you know, he likes to joke -- Cain likes to joke that he's the black walnut ice cream. He's not the flavor of the week. But if the black walnut ice cream melts into a puddle, I think Newt has put himself into a position to capitalize on that.

He's moved up -- he's only about where he was when he joined the race in the spring. That's the point I would make, that Newt joined the race sort of in the low single digits. He had a terrible launch. He had some very bad press. He put his foot in his mouth and he sank down a few points. He's kind of back to where he was.

And I think now that -- if this story does bring Cain down and his followers scatter, I think Newt is a sort of natural landing place for a lot of those people. So I think Newt has kind of rebounded. It's not that he's surging back into the top tier, but I think he's positioned himself to be ready to capitalize on a Cain meltdown.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, he's going to be on show tomorrow night, 10:00 PM, so we're going to ask him a lot of questions about the race.

But I'm curious -- Governor Romney -- he's been sort of quiet. I guess he sort of stepped out and let everyone else sort of duke it out about other things. But where does he -- where is he in this race now?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, there's been some joking. I think Politico coined the phrase "the Mittness protection program." I think Mitt Romney generally is very happy to lay low, kind of fly under the radar.

I think right now, he is kind of the default choice. You know, no one really seems to love him, but he's got a strong lead in New Hampshire. He's a close second or maybe tied for first in Iowa with Herman Cain, whose candidacy right now is in some doubt. He's doing very well in the national polls.

And I think that Romney is kind of hoping at the end of the day, he can be the last man standing, that these candidates rise up and fall back. So Michele Bachmann came and went. Rick Perry came and went. Maybe he'll come back, maybe not. Cain is having his moment, but now he's maybe crumbling.

And I think Romney's hoping at the end of the day, Republicans will say, We don't love him, but we can accept him. So what he wants to do is stay out of the way, not answer too many tricky questions about his long record of flip-flops or his record in Massachusetts. I think he's very happy right now to lay low.

And frankly, I think he's looking pretty good right now. I would have to say he's got to be the sort of default -- if you're betting, he's got to be the default nominee, although we have a long way to go, of course.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed, we do. Just we have 30 seconds left. I'm curious. Who do you think the White House right now, tonight, would least like to run against?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, you can spin that a lot of different ways. I have to say that I think it's Romney because I think that these presidential elections are fought out in the center. And the problem Romney has with the primary voters right now is that he's too moderate. He's got some liberal positions in particularly his past (INAUDIBLE) tried to change were fairly liberal.

But I think in a general election, he comes across close -- as being close to the center. I think some of the other Republican candidates, particularly Perry, for instance, are more hard right. I think that plays well with the primary audience, but I think the White House feels that they can -- they have a better job tearing down a conservative who's on the right than going toe to toe with someone in the center, particularly like someone like Romney with a businessman record. He's got very good credentials on the economy and jobs.

So I think it's Romney they fear. And notice that that's who they're going after right now. When you hear comments from White House spokespeople and Obama campaign spokespeople, it's Romney they're targeting.

VAN SUSTEREN: Michael, thank you. Hope you'll come back. Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Greta.