At The Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib notes encouraging data for Romney:
Fueled by Tea Party supporters, conservatives and high-interest GOP primary voters, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain now leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
And in yet another sign of how volatile the Republican race has been with less than three months until the first nominating contests, the onetime frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has plummeted to third place, dropping more than 20 percentage points since late August.
“Cain is the leader ... That’s the story,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
But McInturff cautions that Cain’s ascent — and Perry’s decline — is probably not the last shakeup in a GOP race that has seen a series of sudden rises and abrupt falls (first Donald Trump, then Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and now Perry) in the field.
“There is still a long, long, long time to go,” McInturff said.
Cain checks in as the first choice of 27 percent of Republican voters in the poll, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 23 percent and Perry at 16 percent. After those three, it’s Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 11 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8 percent, Bachmann at 5 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 3 percent.
It's true that 40% of Republicans say that, were Mr. Romney to win the nomination, they would have some reservations about voting for him in the general election, and that's not a good number for Camp Romney. But it's also true that he's the second choice of more Republicans than any other candidate—a sign that he's at least acceptable in quarters that aren't excited about him—while 60% of very conservative voters still say they have overall positive feelings about Mr. Romney.
But perhaps the most revealing picture emerges when Mr. Romney is stacked up in a hypothetical one-on-one match-up against Texas Gov. Perry. ...
Set against Mr. Perry now, Mr. Romney prevails easily, 54% to 39%. Mr. Romney actually does better among tea-party backers in that match-up, and loses only slightly among "very conservative" voters.
Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who co-directs the Journal/NBC News poll with Republican Bill McInturff, says Mr. Romney is the kind of candidate who inspires "respect, not passion." Such candidates sometimes fail (Michael Dukakis, Robert Dole), but sometimes succeed (George H.W. Bush). Their fate may be more a function of their times than anything else.
But if the question is whether Republicans can learn to live with Mitt Romney, the numbers suggest many already have.