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Cain Beats Romney as GOP Frontrunner for Primary

Wednesday, 12 Oct 2011 | 6:30 PM ET

Business executive Herman Cain has jumped to the top of the volatile Republican presidential race in a campaign season dominated by economic anxiety.

Herman Cain
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Herman Cain

Among Republican primary voters, Cain leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 27 percent to 23 percent, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who led the August NBC/WSJ survey with 38 percent supported, plummeted to third place with 16 percent. He was followed by Rep. Ron Paul with 11 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 8 percent, Rep. Michele Bachmann with 5 percent, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman with 3 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum with 1 percent.

Cain’s rapid rise, from 5 percent in the previous poll, underscores the volatility of the 2012 GOP nomination contest. Like the rank-and-file’s earlier flirtations with Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Perry, this one, too, may not last.

Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducts the Journal/NBC survey with his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart, cautioned that this latest “speculative bubble” reflects the Republican base sifting a presidential field without a dominant front-runner. Romney holds a lead in fund-raising and in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, but has so far been unable to capture the heart of his party.

“He’s the remainder-man candidate for the Republicans,” Hart said. “Acceptable, but not their first choice.”

But the poll makes clear that, with the weak economy souring voters’ mood, whoever wins the GOP nomination stands a solid chance of defeating Obama in the Nov. 2012 general election.

Three of four Americans said the nation has fallen “off on the wrong track. Only 14 percent of respondents believe the economy has gotten better in the last year, and just 21 percent believe it will get better in the next year.

That discontent is reflected in Obama’s 44 percent approval rating, down from 52 percent five months ago, and also in a significant level of sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street protests that have spread to various cities around the country. Among the large majority of Americans who are aware of the protests, some 37 percent “tend to support” them, compared to 18 percent who oppose them and 25 percent with no opinion.

The survey shows that Obama retains some advantages heading into his re-election campaign in public opinion. In a match-up against an unnamed Republican nominee, he leads by two percentage points – identical to his margin over Romney. He leads both Cain and Perry by more than 10 percentage points.

Moreover, Obama’s jobs plan shows the potential for garnering broad public support even though Republicans are blocking it in Congress. That has forced Democrats into an alternative strategy of pursuing components of the package individually.

Fully 63 percent said they favor Obama’s plan after hearing a list of its elements, compared to 32 percent who oppose it. By a similar margin, Americans call it a good idea “to raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations” — as Obama has proposed.

And on the broader question of priorities, 66 percent of Americans now say the president and Congress should focus on creating jobs more than deficit reduction. Just 30 percent prefer a focus on deficit reduction, which Republicans on Capitol Hill have made their principal focus this year.

The telephone survey of 1,000 adults, conducted from Oct. 6 to 10, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.

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