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Herman Cain Tries To Get Back On Message


Joining us now is NPR's Cokie Roberts, who's with us most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.


INSKEEP: Is Herman Cain surviving the sexual harassment allegations against him?

ROBERTS: Well, it's been a long week, and he's had lots of different explanations over the week. Unsurprisingly, the candidate himself doesn't want to talk about this anymore, as we heard from him after a debate with Newt Gingrich.

HERMAN CAIN: I was going to do something that my staff told me not to do and try to respond. OK?

What I'm saying is this: We are getting back on message. End of story. Back on message.

ROBERTS: Unfortunately for him, it's not that easy. It's not end of story. Look, for the time being, as you just heard from Brian, it's not hurting him in the polls. He's still running about even with Romney at the top of Republican pack. But about 40 percent of Republicans and independents, in an ABC poll, say it is a serious matter.

But the bigger problem from Herman Cain, Steve, is that even when you talk to people who are his big supporters in focus groups, and then they're asked, well, would you be comfortable to see him president, nobody raises their hands. So I think that, you know, he just hasn't gotten over that hurdle of seriousness.

INSKEEP: Oh, which would imply that some people are settling on him for the moment, because they're not satisfied with the other choices. How are those other choices doing?

ROBERTS: Well, they just can't settle on Mitt Romney. I mean, that continues to be the Republican problem. Now some of his problem is religious. A good fifth of Republican voters say that they - it makes them less likely to support him because he's a Mormon. Now that's down from a third, but it's still significant.

But basically they're just not comfortable with his positions or his personalities so they keep looking for somebody else and this week, it's Newt Gingrich who's rising in the polls, a familiar name. I know him very well, I've covered him in Congress for many years. He's a very smart, interesting man who's a great tactician. But he's really undisciplined and it's hard to see him going through a long campaign.

So I think Romney is still there, and in every poll in every state where there's been a poll taken, he is the most elect-able candidate against Barack Obama. But right now that's not enough for the Republican electorate that's wanting to fall in love.

INSKEEP: Now President Obama is still looking fairly vulnerable if you look at the approval ratings.

ROBERTS: No kidding. Again, in an ABC poll that came out yesterday, 31 percent of Americans are furious at the way the federal government works. That's a record in polling, back to 1992. And you add in those who are just not happy with the way government works and it goes to 80 percent. That's high. It's the highest in almost 20 years.

Three-quarters of the country thinks that we're off on the wrong track. That's a problem for all incumbents, all incumbents, but the president, of course, is the incumbent-in-chief and the economy is just dragging him down with almost 90 percent saying it's in bad shape, and 63 percent saying it has not begun to recover.

Still, what we're really seeing is this furor at government extending to furor at both political parties. There are more independents than Republicans and Democrats showing up in the polls now. They really have had it with both political parties and it's a reflection of the anger of what's happening, or most especially, what's not happening in Washington D.C. to do anything about.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what's happening in Washington D.C. As well as you know, Congress, I want to ask you about this supercommittee which is supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings by Thanksgiving or automatic spending cuts kick in. What are the prospects here?

ROBERTS: You know, yesterday Speaker Boehner said on ABC that it's hard. Well, yes, we know that, and I mean that the committee is working hard. But if both sides are dug in on their priorities, it's very difficult to see how they do come to conclusion.

Now there was a letter from 100 House members calling on the committee to have a balanced solution, including 40 Republicans, including Republicans who had signed that no new taxes pledge, saying some taxes are going to be necessary. I think if the committee doesn't come up with something, the anger at Washington and at government is going to be at really all time, even higher, and how that plays out in the election will be something to see.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts who is today at our member station KWMU in St. Louis.


INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.