Herman Cain’s newly energized candidacy is reshaping the Republican presidential primary race and creating a new hurdle for Texas Governor Rick Perry as he tries to catch frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Those dynamics will be on display tonight in a debate focused exclusively on the economy and jobs and to be held in New Hampshire, the first presidential primary election state.
A pre-debate poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post, the debate sponsors, found that Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive, has pulled almost even with former Massachusetts Governor Romney in appeal as an economic leader.
Twenty-two percent of the party’s supporters picked Romney, a former venture capitalist, 20 percent Cain and 12 percent Perry as the candidates who could do the most to improve the economy.
With fewer than 100 days before New Hampshire’s primary is due to occur, eight Republican candidates are gathering today on the Hanover campus of Dartmouth College. The debate will be broadcast on Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Radio, WBIN-TV in New Hampshire and on Bloomberg.com and WashingtonPost.com.
“The mega-question is will Rick Perry screw up again?” said John J. Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “Everyone knows that Romney handles himself well in these debates. He’s smooth if you like him, slick if you don’t. People want to know whether Perry can reassure some of the people who were disappointed by his stumbles last time.”
Eyes on Cain
Many eyes will be on Cain as well, said Pitney, a former Republican Party aide, “to see if he can stand up to the tough questions and the tight scrutiny” he is likely to draw as a newcomer to the top tier of candidates.
The candidates fanned out across the autumn-hued highways of New Hampshire to court the state’s independent-minded residents. Each seeks to persuade voters who hold early sway in the party’s nominating contest that her or she is best- positioned to oust President Barack Obama and address the issue dominating the campaign: jobs and reinvigorating the economy.
Romney, at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Milford, New Hampshire, said yesterday Obama’s stewardship has created a “Where’s Waldo economy,” referring to the children’s books in which the challenge is to hunt for a small, hard-to-find man on a crowded page. In Romney’s analogy, the jobs are Waldo.
He also accused Obama of fostering class-warfare that Romney said demonized groups of people unfairly. “I’ve been really disappointed -- and, in some respects, a little frightened -- by the president’s rhetoric -- this class warfare, trying to find someone to blame,” Romney said.
Earlier, commenting on the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in Lower Manhattan and have spread to cities across the country, Romney said, “Dividing our nation at a time of crisis is the wrong way to go. All the streets are connected. Wall Street’s connected to Main Street, and so finding a scapegoat, finding someone to blame, in my opinion, isn’t the right way to go.”
Asked by an undecided voter at a town hall meeting in Hopkinton whether he or Cain has better private sector experience, Romney said Cain “is a terrific guy and give him a good look. Both Herman and I spent our careers in the private sector so I think that’s one of the reasons both of us are doing pretty well.”
Romney also pointed out his experience as an elected official, a credential Cain lacks. “You don’t want to necessarily learn that for the first time as president of the United States,” he said.
Perry, absent from public view as tries to bounce back from weak debate performances and criticism of his position on illegal immigration, released a campaign video criticizing Romney for his support of a Massachusetts health-care law that bears similarities to the national measure Obama enacted.
The video portrays Romney as a mirror image of Obama, juxtaposing images of the president signing the law its opponents derisively call Obamacare with images of Romney signing the Massachusetts measure. Both laws require that all residents purchase health insurance, a mandate that has proved unpopular. It includes TV clips of Romney defending his legislation and concludes with a phrase he uttered during the last debate: “There are a lot of reasons not to elect me.” That is followed by a quote from Obama: “He’s right.”
Perry, who shot to the front of the Republican pack following his Aug. 13 entrance into the race, has fallen from favor, according to public polls, largely because of his decision as governor to let children of illegal immigrants attend college at discounted tuition. He announced last week that he raised more than $17 million in scarcely more than a month, an indication that he could have staying power in the Republican contest.
Cain also stayed largely out of the public eye preparing for his first debate performance since winning a non-binding straw poll in Florida on Sept. 24, bringing him greater name recognition, a boost in public polls and new attention for his 9-9-9 tax plan. It would replace the current tax system with 9 percent corporate and individual taxes and a 9 percent sales tax.
Recent public polls reveal a bump for Cain, even as they underscore Romney’s status as party favorite. The Bloomberg-Post national poll of 1,000 people conducted Oct. 6-9 showed Romney maintained his overall advantage as the candidate Republican supporters most want to see as the nominee, at 24 percent, with Cain second at 16 percent.
New Hampshire Edge
Romney also leads among likely voters in New Hampshire, according to a poll jointly sponsored by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. That poll found Romney is backed by 38 percent of likely New Hampshire primary voters, followed by Cain with 20 percent and Texas Representative Ron Paul with 13 percent. The other candidates got support of 5 percent or less.
“There’s nobody who’s been able to solidify a No. 2 slot,” said Andrew Smith, a University of New Hampshire polling expert and political scientist whose latest survey found similar results. “Over the last couple of years, and certainly recent months, we’ve seen multiple candidates bump up to No. 2, but nobody’s been able to stay there for more than one or two polls. The race is still largely Romney’s to lose.”
Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, a social conservative who threatened Romney with an early burst of momentum that was squelched by Perry, said she is looking for a chance to distinguish herself at the debate.
“Hopefully, we’ll get plenty of questions and be able to stand out,” she told reporters after a town hall meeting in Henniker. While public polls have shown a drop in her popularity, Bachmann said she has the money to stay in the race. “We do have the resources to be viable,” she said. “We’re still in business, so we’re grateful.”
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., looking to gain traction on his signature issue of foreign policy in a race so far defined almost entirely by the economy, called for scaling back the U.S. role in international military engagements, including Afghanistan, and cutting defense spending.
“We must right-size our current foreign entanglements,” he said.
Huntsman, who served as Obama’s ambassador to China, said he continues to pin his hopes on success in New Hampshire.
“If you do what needs to be done in New Hampshire, you create that wave effect in physics; you get it rolling forward, and so long as that wave effect starts, it doesn’t stop and it continues to take you forward,” he told reporters in Tilton.
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