You’ve probably seen the state-by-state numbers from our big poll released Wednesday, and the basic storyline is pretty obvious: Mitt Romney is the clear GOP frontrunner, with Herman Cain close behind him in the key early states. But Romney’s support is tepid, and he benefits from a wildly splintered conservative vote.
There’s more to the poll, though, and I would guide readers to the venerable Ron Brownstein, who spent some time crunching the complete data and came up with some interesting nuances. One of them is the disposition of Republican voters who call themselves born-again Christians. As he did in 2008, Mitt Romney is struggling to win over this bloc–presumably because these voters tend to be more conservative than Romney, but perhaps also because of anti-Mormon bias among some evangelicals. Meanwhile, Herman Cain is a hit with this crowd.
A key implication of this is that Rick Perry needs to steal those evangelicals away from Cain. Brownstein notes that Perry performs slightly better with evangelicals in several states than he does overall, suggesting an opportunity for growth. And amid all the talk of hunting properties and Social Security and staff shakeups, let’s not forget how central evangelicalism has been to Perry’s public profile. (Remember that summer prayer rally?) That’s clearly one reason Perry took care to rip Cain’s confusing words about abortion in Iowa this past weekend, and it’s a reason to expect more of the same.
The political world is waiting for an epic battle between Perry and Romney. But Perry can win the nomination if Romney continues to draw about a quarter to a third of the vote. He will just need to pop the Herman Cain bubble (if Cain doesn’t do that on his own). An all-out play for religious conservatives might be his best shot.