November 9, 2011 6:24 pm

Romney holds steady as rivals rise and fall

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The Republican presidential race is shaping up to be a bookmaker’s nightmare, such are the wild gyrations in candidates’ ratings.

Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota representative, was first out of the gate, but her poll numbers slumped when Rick Perry, Texas governor, announced his candidacy. Mr Perry’s star soon faded – the result of underwhelming debate performances – while Herman Cain, the pizza executive, staged a surprising rise into the top ranks.

Now Newt Gingrich, the former House of Representatives speaker, has inexplicably gone from 5 per cent in August to 13 per cent, according to an average of polls.

Indeed, the only constants in the race have been the inability of Mitt Romney, presumptive frontrunner, to take a commanding lead, and Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum languishing in low single-digits.

With Republicans set to begin voting in two months, all the candidates were seeking to boost their numbers on Wednesday night during a televised debate about the most crucial aspect of the election: the lacklustre economy and their plans to fix it.

Interactive graphic: Race for the White House

US presidential elections interactive

The backgrounds and platforms of some of the declared candidates and others who have expressed interest in running

But the rivals are also increasingly weighing into an area where they had feared to tread for more than a week. Apparently sensing that Mr Cain’s supporters are now up for grabs, the other candidates have started calling for him to answer more fully the allegations of sexual harassment that have been levelled against him.

Mr Romney, who is widely considered to be the most likely nominee, but who has been tied with Mr Cain for the lead in most polls, said the accusation that his rival had groped a woman was “particularly disturbing”, and it was “going to have to be addressed”.

Mr Gingrich also chimed in, saying it was “unavoidable” that Mr Cain would have to answer the allegations directly now that specifics had come out.

Sharon Bialek, a Chicago woman who worked at a foundation linked to the National Restaurant Association while Mr Cain was its head, alleged on Monday he had been “sexually inappropriate” towards her.

A second woman, Karen Kraushaar, has since said she is the woman who received a $45,000 settlement from the NRA after filing a harassment complaint against Mr Cain. Ms Kraushaar, who is now a spokeswoman at the Treasury department, wants all four women who have made allegations against Mr Cain to appear at a joint press conference.

Mr Cain is fiercely denying the allegations and his fundraising drive has been unaffected. His Iowa caucus fund, aiming to raise $999,000, topped $1m on Wednesday morning. But his ratings are beginning to suggest his winning streak will soon come to an end.

Some analysts say Mr Gingrich could be the beneficiary of an eroding Cain campaign, despite the significant hurdles of his two divorces and abysmal fundraising record.

“Romney won’t benefit because he was doing just fine with Cain as the alternative because the Republican establishment would have been reluctant to put forward Cain, given his lack of experience and knowledge,” said Pat Buchanan, who ran for the Republican nomination twice in the 1990s. “Newt [Gingrich] is probably the temporary beneficiary, but Romney is just about the only one with the legs to go the distance.”

In depth: US presidential elections 2012

staff fixes the presidential seal before US President Barack Obama gives a press conference

Republican contenders are vying for the presidential nomination of the party in an attempt to unseat Barack Obama in 2012

Mr Gingrich has said he wants to go after the 75 per cent of Republican voters who have not committed to Mr Romney. If he succeeds, “then Romney will have a problem stopping me,” he said in an interview with ABC and Yahoo on Tuesday.

Mr Perry is also trying to stage a comeback, but most analysts continue to think Mr Romney is the inevitable choice, a conclusion that the former Massachusetts governor has taken advantage of – by doing as little as possible. He has held only a few, low-profile public events this week, apparently preferring to sit back and let the other campaigns sink around him.

“Romney has been remarkably steady and organised throughout the whole campaign,” said Vin Weber, a former congressman who is now advising the candidate. “As other candidates rise, that has not changed, as other candidates fall, that has not changed.”

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