In what may be the most impressive and surprising sign of the Herman Cain phenomenon yet, the Republican presidential candidate was essentially tied with native son Gov. Rick Perry in Texas, of all places.
A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll put Cain at 27 percent support and Perry, the three-term governor at 26 percent. The margin of error was plus/minus 3.46 percent.
And in what was an even more extraordinary finding, Cain had his biggest lead over Perry among the most conservative Republicans. The poll was taken before Politico's Sunday report that Cain was accused of sexual harassment by two women when he headed the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. Cain forcefully denied the allegations during a short Fox News interview Monday, saying "I have never sexually harassed anyone," and "I was falsely accused.."
As Ross Ramsey reported in the Texas Tribune:
"Texans appear to be subject to the national dynamic," said Jim Henson, who teaches government at UT, runs the Texas Politics Project there and co-directs the UT/Tribune poll. "And the dynamic when we were out in the field was that Herman Cain was ascendant. He had really grabbed the attention of the conservatives in the GOP primary race in particular. And we saw that reflected in this poll."
Though they're statistically tied — Cain's lead over Perry is well within the survey's margin of error — the former executive leads Perry among rural voters in Texas, and has a smaller lead among suburban Republicans. Perry has a 2-point edge over Cain in urban Texas. Break that down a little more and the poll found Cain with a big lead over Perry in Houston and in Austin, while Perry had smaller advantages over Cain and the other Republicans in Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio.
"Maybe the most important number is that Cain is up 37 percent to 24 percent among the most conservative voters," said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a UT government professor. "Perry wins with every other group."
It's hard to interpret this poll as anything other than very bad news for Perry. Texas is obviously a key part of his base.
If he can't do better than a tie with a rival who is not well known in his own state, Perry has some serious problems, indeed. Importantly, it's just one more sign of weakness that reasonably could expected to hurt his abilities to raise money nationally.