So, who benefits if Cain exits the race?

With the prospect of Herman Cain exiting the race for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, many analysts and pundits are weighing where his support would go. You’d have to assume that Mitt Romney probably wants Cain to say in due to the dynamics of the race. At least one poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, indicates that Newt Gingrich would be the beneficiary of Cain’s exit:

Gingrich has a much better favorability rating with Cain supporters than does Mitt Romney. Seventy-three percent of Cain supporters view Gingrich favorably, while only 33 percent have a favorable view of Romney.

Gingrich is also the consensus second choice among Cain voters, with 37 percent saying Gingrich would be their back-up to Cain, compared to 14 percent for Michele Bachmann, 13 percent for Romney, and 12 percent for Rick Perry.

While it may be counterintuitive on the surface, Grace Wyler believes both Romney and Gingrich need Cain to stay in the race:

On the surface, Gingrich appears to be the most likely beneficiary of Cain’s potential exit from the race. Barring some miraculous phoenix recovery from one of the other candidates, Gingrich now looks like the only viable contender left to challenge Romney. Moreover, his positive message is similar to Cain’s, and his borderline annoying policy knowledge is enough to reassure voters freaked out by a field of relative political neophytes.

The problem for Gingrich isn’t Cain’s collapse — it is the way that Cain is collapsing. News of Cain’s alleged affair opens up old wounds for Gingrich, who has somehow managed to get voters to suspend their recollection of his own marital misdeeds.

If voters are turned off by Cain’s alleged indiscretions, they may find it hard to turn to another candidate with a checkered personal past — especially if another campaign decides to start doubling down on “family values.”

That really does make sense. It’s safe to say that most socially conservative voters tend to be Christians, some of whom are skeptical of Romney — who is happily married, as Dave Weigel noted yesterday — because of his Morman faith. In light of the swings in the GOP primary, is it too crazy to assume that Rick Santorum, who has frequently (and annoyingly) noted his social conservative, pro-family credentials.

It know it’s unlikely, but is it possible? Who would have seen Herman Cain carrying the banner of frontrunner this late in the game? Exactly.

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