Nightly News   |  October 12, 2011

Herman Cain is the new GOP frontrunner

The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Herman Cain is the new frontrunner in the GOP race for the presidential nomination. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Tonight here we're revealing for the first time the results of our brand-new NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll, and the numbers reveal a new front-runner in the GOP race, Herman Cain . This will be an unwelcome development to the forces at the center of the GOP who are trying mightily to blunt the charge from the tea party and others on the right and unite somehow behind a future nominee like Mitt Romney , who the governor of New Jersey endorsed just yesterday. But as we learn tonight the numbers are still very much on the move, and we begin with our White House corespondent and political director Chuck Todd . Chuck , good evening.

CHUCK TODD reporting: Good evening, Brian . Well, look, the Republican establishment may believe they know who the Republican challenger to President Obama 's going to be, but Republican voters have not gotten the memo.

Mr. HERMAN CAIN: My top priority is 9-9-9.

TODD: At Tuesday night's New Hampshire debate businessman Herman Cain and his economic plan were center stage. And in the new NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll Cain 's on top. Cain , who's never held elective office, now leads the Republican field with 27 percent, followed closely by the establishment front-runner Mitt Romney at 23 percent. Rick Perry , the leader of the GOP pack a month ago, saw his support fall by more than 20 points, down to 16 percent.

TODD: Cain is the latest in a series of Republicans to surge to the top of the field and shake up the race.

Donald Trump sitting at 17 percent. We have a new front-runner in tomorrow night's presidential debate and that is Rick Perry ... Romney 's numbers have remained stubbornly consistent, and he's been unable to convince wary Republican conservatives to support his nomination.

TODD: But he does test better than any other Republican against President Obama , trailing by just two points, 46-44. Cain trails Obama by double digits. And for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie , Romney's electability matters.

Governor CHRIS CHRISTIE: I wouldn't be with him if he wasn't going to win.

TODD: But for 67 percent of Republican primary voters, a candidate who shares their views outweighs the ability to beat President Obama .

TODD: While the president's standing hasn't improved, just 44 percent approve of the job he's doing, his jobs plan does get strong support, but only after a brief description is read.

TODD: The bigger headwind for the president is the country's overall pessimism. The 74 percent who say the country is headed in the wrong direction is the highest number recorded since Mr. Obama took office.

TODD: And a record level of respondents, 82 percent, think the entire federal government is unhealthy and needs large reforms. So our pollsters went back and reinterviewed some of these Cain supporters to ask them why Herman Cain ? There's this theme, Brian . "He isn't a politician," said one. "He seems like a real person," said someone from Texas , "He's not part of the political establishment," and said a man from Indiana , "He is probably the best candidate at the moment." Brian :

WILLIAMS: Well, here we go with the new set of numbers tonight. Chuck Todd in our DC newsroom starting us off, thanks.