Today’s debate is the most important yet of Herman Cain’s campaign. He’s tied or leading Mitt Romney nationally. One poll has him with an eight-point lead in Iowa, he is way ahead in South Carolina, only five points behind in Nevada, and three behind in Florida. The next debate is not until November 9, so if he performs well he’ll have a significant amount of time to rally the anti-Romney vote behind him.
Herman Cain’s candidacy is defined by his 9-9-9 plan: Bring down 9-9-9, bring down Cain. You can guarantee that his admission that 9-9-9 will raise taxes on some people will be used against him.
His misjudging of the housing bubble may be brought up. Rick Santorum has been criticizing Cain for saying he’d let states make their own decisions on gay marriage. Cain may also be attacked for his opposition to stricter drinking and driving regulations when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association.
The last debate focused solely on the economy, so Cain’s lack of knowledge of foreign affairs wasn’t an issue. This time will be different, especially in light of the Iranian terror plot. When asked about stopping a nuclear Iran, he said that only a pre-emptive strike would work — but he’d have to first consult with advisors. This shallowness won’t cut it in a debate, especially with the sophisticated policy proposals of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich on the issue, who favor regime change.
Cain better show up with detailed numbers to defend his 9-9-9 plan, and he would be wise to boast that he’s a mathematician. He can blunt attacks on his national security credentials by mentioning his past work on weapons systems — which he has inexplicably still failed to mention — and by taking on Ron Paul.
He should also mention the poll that shows him defeating President Obama by two points, in order to undermine the electability argument central to Romney’s campaign.
Mitt Romney is still in a very good position. He’s leading in New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, and according to some polls, Iowa. The attention is on Herman Cain, allowing Romney to continue his strategy of letting other candidates throw punches for him. If Romney’s past performances are any indication, this will be another good night for him.
Newt Gingrich is cementing his third-place position, though Rick Perry isn’t far behind. At least two polls show him in third nationally (though others have him as low as fifth place). He’s in third in Iowa and Florida, so he will benefit from Perry’s continuing downward slide and any slip-up by Cain. However, his huge debt restricts his ability to capitalize on this momentum, and the transition from policy analyst to presidential candidate is proving difficult for him. To date, he still has yet to explicitly say why he’s the best candidate on stage, and although he has substantive ideas, he has to convince voters that he’s the guy to implement them.
Rick Perry is walking in the footsteps of General Wesley Clark and former Senator Fred Thompson. One poll has him all the way down at 6 percent in Iowa for sixth place. Nationally, the best showing he has in a poll is a distant third place. His new strategy is to make energy independence his signature issue, but without some stand-out moments in the debates, he won’t re-gain the confidence of the supporters he lost.
Michele Bachmann is focusing on sounding more substantive and is doing a good job of it. However, she is going through her coffers quickly and has a strategy that is difficult to have confidence in. She is spending an inordinate amount of time in New Hampshire, when everyone knows that her campaign depends upon success in Iowa. The latest poll there has her one point behind Gingrich for fourth place.
Ron Paul is offering more detailed proposals to try to move his campaign forward. He has put forth a plan to cut the budget by $1 trillion and to balance the budget during his third year in office. He’s moving from being philosophical to operational, which is good, but his plan rests upon ending military deployments overseas. This won’t change the dynamic of the race. Ron Paul’s supporters will remain supporters, and his detractors will remain detractors.
Rick Santorum does a good job of tearing down other candidates, but a poor job of winning the voters that he costs them. He was the most aggressive critic of Herman Cain during the last debate, and this one will probably be no different. One of Santorum’s main problems is that if he causes Cain’s supporters to second-guess their choice, it is unlikely that they’ll look at him when he’s polling in the low single-digits. They’ll look at whoever is next in line.
Jon Huntsman is making a big mistake by skipping the debate in order to side with New Hampshire in its struggle with Nevada over the primary calendar. He is giving more air time to the second tier that he’s trying to break into, furthering his irrelevancy. He was impressively growing his support in New Hampshire, reaching 10 percent for third place at one point, but with Cain’s surge, he has fallen to fourth and is tied with Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann. In addition, his campaign is nearly $1 million in debt.
Tonight is when the rubber meets the road for Herman Cain. If he emerges victorious, it will be a two-man race at least until November 9, and the longer it remains so, the more likely it is to last.