Romney Fights The 'Fragile Frontrunner' Label And Cain Fights Back

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

Whether you’re Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or Herman Cain, it’s going to be a long slog to the first primaries of 2012, and Romney, in particular, has the “curse” of the frontrunner to contend with.

The notion that Romney is at the front of the pack just because the others have fallen behind, is not entirely accurate. The knock against Romney is that he’s trapped in some sort of polling purgatory. Other candidates rise and fall, while Romney hasn’t budged, holding steady at about 25 percent of the vote.

Yet it’s also true that he hasn’t actually done anything that would get him movement in the polls. He hasn’t spent a dime on ads. He hasn’t done much campaigning. He hasn’t even appeared on a Sunday show. He’s running out the clock, not trying to run up the score. Despite all that, Romney is still running at the top of the pack in the crucial early-state battlegrounds of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

Rick Perry, who released his flat tax plan earlier this week, is playing catch up — both on laying out his ideas and in the polls. And not only does he have Romney criticizing his proposals, now Herman Cain’s trying to take them apart too.

“It’s not a true flat tax. It’s flat tax lite. The reason it’s flat tax lite is because he still retains some favorite deductions,” Cain said at a campaign event in Perry’s own Texas last night. “The lobbyists are still going to work hard to get their favorite deduction put back in, so that defeats the purpose.”

Speaking at a private fundraiser in Corpus Christi, Cain elaborated: “He just basically collapsed all of the tax brackets into one. That’s all it is,” he said, according to ABC’s Susan Archer.

And contrast the discipline of the Romney campaign with both Perry and Cain. The Texas governor made some major changes to his lineup of advisers this week, adding several operatives to the mix as he tries to reboot his presidential bid.

Cain, meanwhile, is now being forced to deal with stories like the one in today’s New York Times in which former staffers are suggesting a chaotic environment within the campaign. Interviews with Mr. Cain’s former staff members, volunteers and supporters give a glimpse of a candidate who appeared to show ambivalence toward basic campaign management, which led to problems in hiring, scheduling, fund-raising and messaging,” according to The Times’ Susan Saulny.

Chances are, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a story like that about the Romney campaign between now and January.


ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”:  ABC’s Devin Dwyer and Zach Wolf speak with Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla. Also on the program Robert Mann, author of “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics.” Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.  

“TOP LINE” REPLAY: JON HUNTSMAN. ABC’s Rick Klein reports: With Mitt Romney  ducking questions about controversial GOP-backed ballot initiatives in Ohio, one of his rivals for the presidency is accusing him of “leading from behind” and failing to show “presidential leadership.” “It looks a little bit like his position on the debt ceiling, a little bit like his position on Libya. It smacks a little bit of leading from behind,” former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman told me and Jonathan Karl on ABC’s “Top Line” yesterday. “This is a time when if you are going to be president of the United States, you show a little presidential leadership. That’s by taking a position and leading out — sometimes there is a risk associated with taking a position, but that’s all part of leadership.” On the substance of those initiatives, Huntsman says he agrees with Republican efforts in Ohio to ban an “individual mandate” to require residents to purchase health insurance – a mandate that’s similar to one Romney put in place as governor of Massachusetts. WATCH:



–The advocacy group, Americans United For Change, responds to Paul Ryan’s speech at the Heritage Foundation yesterday with a new web video, titled, “Has Paul Ryan met … Paul Ryan?”  WATCH:

–A Democratic National Committee official sends along a web video of their own – targeting Mitt Romney. “Mitt Romney’s really living up to his hard-earned reputation as a convictionless politician who’s willing to say anything in his decades long effort to seek higher office. Romney’s ever-changing position on Ohio’s anti-worker ballot measure has taken flip-flopping to a new level. On this one issue alone he’s had no less than three distinct positions – and two in 24 hours. With his positions changing with the political winds, it’s little wonder he can’t crack 25 percent in GOP primary polls.” WATCH:



PERRY CAMPAIGN DEBATING DEBATES. “Rick Perry, whose performance in a series of Republican presidential debates has corresponded with a steep decline in his polling, plans to limit participation in future face-offs ahead of early state nominating contests,” writes Bloomberg’s John McCormick. “The concession by the Texas governor, made by an aide on CNN last night, could benefit former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has taken a lead over his party’s contestants in the states with the first four primaries and caucuses. ‘We’re about 60 days away from votes being cast,’ Ray Sullivan, Perry’s communications director, said on CNN. ‘The candidates need to spend time in Iowa doing those town halls and spending a lot more time with the voters, who oftentimes have the best questions and press the candidates the hardest.’”

DETAILS OF DEMOCRATS SUPER COMMITTEE PROPOSAL LEAK. “Democrats have proposed a framework for the Super Committee that multiple aides confirm is around $3 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade through a cocktail of cuts to entitlements, including Medicare, and as much as $1.3 trillion in new tax revenues,” reports ABC’s John R. Parkinson. “Democratic aides close to the negotiations confirmed that at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., presented a plan on behalf of a majority of the Democrats on the 12-member panel. He urged the committee to resume where President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner left off in negotiations on a so-called Grand Bargain, which included a balanced plan to raise new tax revenue, increase the Medicare eligibility age and use a more stingy method to calculate inflation and determine Social Security benefits.”

RON PAUL’S ECONOMIC PLAN SPARKS DISCUSSION. “Ron Paul may have little chance of capturing the GOP presidential nomination, but that hasn’t stopped his political opponents from going after a tax plan he recently introduced that would slice $1 trillion from the federal budget,” ABC’s Jason Volack reports. “Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Paul’s 2012 Republican rival, labeled the plan “a non-starter.” … Herman Cain, the latest Republican presidential candidate to see a surge in the polls, hinted that Paul’s drastic approach to budget cutting won’t work. … Paul’s campaign staff argues that the attacks from established candidates reinforce the idea that Paul is having a greater impact on the race by raising fiscal issues the others won’t touch. And his tax plan is getting support from some of the loudest voices in the GOP.” More:

IS MARCO RUBIO A RISK FOR THE GOP? “Republicans who are eager to repair the party’s battered image among Hispanic voters and unseat President Obama next year have long promoted a single-barrel solution to their two-pronged problem: putting Sen. Marco Rubio on the national ticket,” writes the Washington Post’s Peter Wallsten. “The charismatic Cuban American lawmaker from Florida, the theory goes, could prompt Hispanics to consider supporting the GOP ticket — even after a primary contest in which dust-ups over illegal immigration have left some conservative Hispanics uneasy. But Rubio’s role in recent controversies, including a dispute with the country’s biggest Spanish-language television network and new revelations that he had mischaracterized his family’s immigrant story, shows that any GOP bet on his national appeal could be risky. Democrats had already questioned whether a Cuban American who has voiced conservative views on immigration and opposed the historic Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina justice, could appeal to a national Hispanic electorate of which Cubans are just a tiny fraction but have special immigration status. And Rubio’s support in Florida among non-Cuban Hispanics has been far less pronounced than among his fellow Cubans.”



@ GOP12 : Tagg Romney on New Hampshire: “Everything just seems like it’s falling into place the right way.”

@JillDLawrence : Perry won’t have NH to himself when he files for  #fitn primary Friday. Romney just announced a town meeting that day.

@ByronYork : The great unknown in Rick Perry’s tax plan.

@ DrewHampshire : Gingrich hires 3 more NH staffers, including the former NH operations director for Bachmann.  #fitn

@ kakukowski : #WeCantWait :) RT  @michaelpfalcone: On  @ABC RT @seanspicer: Great punpkin is on tonight — been running on TV since 1966



* Herman Cain speaks at the Washington County Lincoln Day Dinner in Springdale, Ark.

* Rick Perry holds a fundraiser in Lafayette, La.

* Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich speak at the “Education and Election 2012? forum in New York City. Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain speak via satellite.

* Ron Paul campaigns in New Hampshire. He holds a house party in Hollis in the evening.

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