Once considered to be a long shot in the race, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is rising in polls and may be benefiting from an electorate torn between fellow contenders Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.
Gingrich placed second among conservatives (23 percent) in the Daytona Beach, Fla., Tea Party Convention straw poll this past weekend. Cain received the majority of the vote despite the media’s focus on sexual harassment allegations.
Gingrich is still not a winner in national polls. But Rasmussen Reports, CBS News/New York Times and FOX News polls all show the former U.S. House speaker beating out contenders Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and even Texas Gov. Rick Perry for third place.
Gingrich is especially loved by Tea Party groups whose leaders have publicly endorsed him. Columbia, S.C., Tea Party leader Allen Olsen endorsed Gingrich two months ago. Tea Party Nation President and founder Judson Phillips has also publicly endorsed Gingrich.
Phillips explained Gingrich’s growing Tea Party support, saying the movement is devoted to picking the strongest GOP candidate.
“We have to win in 2012,” he said in a phone interview with The Christian Post.
Phillips said conservatives believe Gingrich can win because he is “the smartest guy” in the debates and has “a wealth of experience” in Washington.
In a general election debate with President Barack Obama, Phillips said Gingrich is a political Babe Ruth. “He takes a swing and the ball is sailing out of the park,” he likened.
Past polls showed Cain, a businessman with little political experience, would also do well against Obama. An October Rasmussen poll showed Cain leading president 43 to 41 percent. However when the +/- 2 percent margin of error is applied, Cain's lead could actually be a tie.
Phillips said that conservatives are also worried about the growing allegations of sexual harassment surrounding Cain.
Cain maintains that he has “never sexually harassed anyone” and he continues to rise in the polls despite the decade-old rumors. A Washington Post/ABC poll conducted Oct. 31 through Nov.3, showed support for Cain remained firm. His campaign also used the negative media coverage to fundraise for Cain’s Iowa fund.
However, as the rumors enter their second week in the media spotlight, a Nov. 6 Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Cain’s favorability among Republicans dropping from 66 percent a week ago to 57 percent. His favorability also declined among all registered voters, from 37 percent to 32 percent.
Conservatives are concerned, according to Phillips, that Cain has not found a way squash the possible scandal.
“This is a story that probably should have died and could have died, if properly managed, in 48 hours. But instead, Cain has managed to keep it alive,” he said.
A fourth accuser, Sharon Bailek, held a press conference Monday saying that the former National Restaurant Association CEO had slipped his hand under her skirt and made other lewd sexual advances after she contacted him for job help.
“As much as I like Herman Cain, I’m thinking if there is suddenly a crisis in the Middle East, what am I going to get from him as a president?” Phillips said.
He also fears the unvetted candidate may have more skeletons in his closet.
Already, there have been allegations by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Cain campaign may have skirted federal finance rules. His campaign chief of staff, Mark Block, said at a Nov. 1 National Journal forum that the campaign had retained outside counsel and was not commenting on the allegation.
Phillips also noted that Cain made some mistakes at the one-on-one debate appearance with Gingrich in Texas this past weekend.
All in all, the Tea Party leader said, “Based on what I’ve seen in the last week, I’m not sure that I want him answering that phone in the White House at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
The GOP electorate has been a fickle one, flocking to Bachmann and Perry before supporting Cain. When asked if Gingrich could simply be another flavor of the month before it settles on Romney, Phillips said, “If he’s going to be a flavor of the month, he picked a great time to do it.”
The GOP candidates have roughly eight weeks before the first primary race in Iowa. The state has tentatively set its primary for Jan. 3, 2012.