After a strong showing in the Republican presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., and a decisive victory in the Florida straw poll over the weekend, Herman Cain's rising poll numbers now put him in a three-way tie with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
A Fox News poll shows Cain with the support of 17 percent of Republican primary voters. Former Massachusetts Governor Romney has 23 percent and Texas Governor Perry has 19 percent. Taking into account the margin of error of +/- 5 percent essentially makes the results a three-way tie.
Prior to this week, the contest was considered a two-person race between Romney and Perry. Cain was in the second tier of candidates who had between six and 10 percent of the vote, along with Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich's support rose from three percent last month to 11 percent in the new poll. Paul now ranks fifth with 6 percent. Bachmann, who was considered a frontrunner before Perry entered the race, dropped down to only three percent, alongside Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Cain surprised many with his margin of victory in the Florida straw poll. He received 35 percent of the vote, which was more than the national frontrunners combined. Romney had 15 percent and Perry had 14 percent.
Cain is a businessman and radio talk show host from Georgia. In the business world, he is best known for helping to turn around the Godfather's Pizza franchise as its CEO. His limited political experience includes chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (1992-1996), national co-chair of Steve Forbes' 1999 presidential campaign and an unsuccessful run for the United States Senate in 2004.
The centerpiece of Cain's economic agenda is his “9-9-9” plan. It would scrap most of the current tax code and replace it with a flat 9 percent income tax, 9 percent corporate income tax (currently at 35 percent) and a new 9 percent sales tax (there is no current sales tax from the federal government).
Cain says that his 9-9-9 plan would be an intermediate step towards implementing the “fair tax,” which would eliminate all federal taxes in favor of a single national sales tax.
Since the economy would benefit from more production and less consumption, economists generally favor taxing consumption over taxing production. The 9-9-9 plan would tax production less by reducing taxes on income and replace that revenue with a tax on consumption, the sales tax.
Critics argue that the 9-9-9 plan is more of a gimmick than a serious economic plan. It would fail to raise enough revenue, they argue, and it would raise taxes on the poor and middle class.
Some credit the boldness of Cain's 9-9-9 plan for his rise in the polls.
“The country is in really deep trouble,” conservative columnist Bill Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“As [Cain] says, scrap the tax code, have some fundamental reform; he's the only one talking on a scale appropriate to the time,” Kristol said.
Cain's rise in the polls comes at the expense of Perry, who dropped 10 points in a month. Perry was the solid frontrunner, but he had a poor debate performance in Florida last Thursday.
“People are saying they like Herman Cain, and to me, here in Washington, it doesn't make any sense,” liberal political analyst Juan Williams said on Fox News' “Special Report” Wednesday. “They understand his 9-9-9 plan. They like Herman Cain as a human being; they find him very approachable, very sensible. … They find that his conservative credentials outstrip what they're hearing from the other candidates.”
The Fox News poll is the first to be conducted after the results of the Florida straw poll. Its sample size is small, only 363 Republican primary voters. The results, therefore, should not be considered conclusive. The results of other polls that will be released over the next few weeks will confirm whether Cain is a legitimate frontrunner.