Have the Curtains Closed for Herman Cain?

Yesterday, Herman Cain suffered another setback to his book tour cum presidential campaign when he announced that he’s been accused of carrying on a 13-year-long extramarital affair. Cain denounced the accusations, but he couldn’t mitigate the damage; at this point, support for his campaign has dwindled to where it was before his surge in October.

As a result of this—and the earlier accusations of sexual harassment—the Cain campaign has opted to “reassess” its decision to go forward in the Republican presidential primary. National Review’s Robert Costas provides the scoop:

"When the previous two accusations, false accusations, came about, we made another assessment. The way we handled those was, we continued on with our schedule. We made an assessment about what was going to happen to our support. But our supporters, and even some folks that we didn’t have as supporters, they stood with us, and they showed it not only in terms of their verbal support, they showed it in terms of their dollars.”

“Now, with this latest one, we have to do an assessment as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud, in some people’s minds, as to whether or not they would be able to support us going forth,” Cain said.

Given the extent to which Herman Cain doesn’t have a shot at the nomination, it wouldn’t be a shock if he opted to cut his losses and exit the race. As for who would benefit from Cain’s departure? The likely choice is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

It’s not just that Gingrich is highly favored by Cain voters nationwide. Already, Gingrich has supplanted Cain as the conservative choice du jour in Iowa and South Carolina. According to a new Insider Advantage poll of Iowa Republicans, Gingrich is leading the field with 28 percent support to Ron Paul’s 13 percent and Mitt Romney’s 12 percent. Herman Cain, the erstwhile front-runner, is down to 10 percent. Likewise, a new We Ask America poll has Gingrich with 29 percent support to Romney’s 13 percent and Cain’s 7 percent.

The picture is similar in the Palmetto State; the same Insider Advantage poll shows Gingrich with support from 38 percent of South Carolina Republicans, with Romney and Cain trailing at 15 percent and 13 percent respectively. In addition, a new American Research Group poll shows Gingrich with a 33 percent lead to 22 percent for Romney and 10 percent for Cain.

This isn’t just a bad situation for Herman Cain—who might have a hard time collecting speaker fees as a disgraced former presidential candidate—but it reveals a core weakness in Mitt Romney’s campaign for the nomination. With the exception of New Hampshire, Romney has a hard time breaking the 20 percent to 25 percent ceiling among Republican voters. This is OK, as long as the conservative field is divided among a half-dozen candidates, but as they drop out—and conservative Republicans flock to a single candidate—it becomes a huge liability.

Of course, this doesn’t doom Romney. With his shoddy campaign and poor support from Republican elites, Gingrich remains a long shot for the GOP nomination, his poll numbers notwithstanding. But if another, more plausible candidate were to emerge from the pack—for example, Texas Governor Rick Perry—then Romney’s inability to seal the deal with conservative voters could prove to be his undoing.