Can this really be happening? Armed with direct talk and a simple, straight-forward tax plan, Herman Cain is now leading the pack. From single digits, he’s now at the top. But how is this happening? What caused voters to give Cain a second look when the field of candidates already had something for everyone? The answer is hidden in the debates, and how they played out in front of the Republican primary voters who were watching.

As Fox News reports, in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain tops his rivals for the GOP nomination with 27% support. Former Gov. Mitt Romney is in second place with 23%.

Romney holds the same percentage as he did in the late August WSJ poll. The big change from that poll to this one is the massive drop of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In August, Perry polled at 38% of Republican primary voters. In the latest poll, Perry stands at 16%. Here are the numbers:

Herman Cain: 27%
Mitt Romney: 23%
Rick Perry: 16%
Ron Paul: 11%
Newt Gingrich: 8%
Michele Bachmann: 5%
Jon Huntsman: 3%
Rick Santorum: 1%

Cain talks specifics. He says exactly what he will do, and that is what people are looking for:

On Wednesday, with five of the Republican presidential candidates addressing members of the New Hampshire state legislature in the state capitol, Herman Cain fired up the crowd. His fiery speech drew several standing ovations in defending his “9-9-9 plan,” which would replace the tax code with flat 9 percent taxes on businesses, personal incomes and sales across the nation.

In a story on, reporter Mark Murray dives deeper into the polling numbers.

Cain’s numbers are sky-high among Republican primary voters. Fifty-two percent view him favorably, versus just 6 percent who see him unfavorably. Among Tea Party supporters, his favorable/unfavorable score is 69 percent to 5 percent. And among Republicans who identify themselves as “very conservative,” it’s 72 percent to 2 percent.

In follow-up interviews with respondents supporting Cain, they argue that he’s not a politician, and that he seems real. “He has common-sense answers and is in touch with the heartbeat of America,” said one respondent, a 46-year-old male from Florida.

“Cain gives direct answers. He is succinct. He isn’t a politician,” answered another who’s a 56-year-old male from Washington.

The Wall Street Journal poll is not the only one showing Cain on the move. A report by Public Policy Polling shows Cain with a commanding lead of 30% to 22% for Romney. In this poll, Gingrich moved into third place with 15%. Perry fell to fourth with 14%.

Strong Tea Party support has Cain in the driver’s seat nationally, just as he has been on our last four individual state polls. With non-Tea Party Republicans Romney actually leads Cain 29-27. But with the Tea Party crowd Cain is getting 39% with Gingrich at 16%, Perry at 14%, and Romney in 4th place at 13%. Romney doesn’t need to win the Tea Partiers to be the Republican nominee. But he does need to finish better than 4th with them.

Of course, all of this can change over the coming months, but it’s interesting to see why Cain has risen in the first place. It shows that voters are willing to give a candidate a second look. Many probably dismissed Cain at the beginning, because they were told over and over again by the media that he was “second tier.” However, when the debates kicked in and voters had a chance to see and hear for themselves, Cain started to rise.

The real loser in this latest round of polling is Rick Perry. Voters were waiting from someone fresh and new. Then, when Perry entered the race, he vaulted to number one. But as the debates have gone on, many are not seeing the conservative outsider that they thought they were getting. In addition, as the feedback has indicated, voters appreciate the direct answers and solutions being offered by Cain. In the last debate Perry was asked directly to give specifics on his plans. He punted. He said they would be unveiled later. Bad move. And it’s exactly the kind of move that allowed people to give Cain a second look.

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