The Republican presidential hopefuls Herman Cain and Mitt Romney are almost neck and neck in the early voting state of Iowa and have far outstripped their competitors, a poll has shown.
The survey, carried out by the Des Moines Register, demonstrates the rapidly shifting fortunes of the Republican candidates. The Texas governor, Rick Perry – a frontrunner in September – attracted just 7% of support, with Cain on 23% and Romney 22%. The poll also revealed that the vast majority of voters remain undecided.
In recent weeks, Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, has emerged as the frontrunner for Republican presidential candidate.
The poll comes less than 10 weeks before Iowa Republicans cast the nation’s first votes for the Republican nominee.
Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Cain defended his recent controversial campaign advertisement which showed his campaign manager smoking, before exhorting Americans not to smoke.
Cain also said his remark that he would like to defend the US from illegal immigrants with a “moat full of alligators” had been a joke. “That was totally in jest,” he added, saying he would “tone down my sense of humour until I become president, because America needs to get a sense of humour”.
But he defended his comments that the sex education charity Planned Parenthood should be called “planned genocide” because it was putting centres in black communities in order to facilitate abortions.
“In [founder] Margaret Sanger’s own words … she didn’t use the word genocide, but she talked about preventing the increasing number of poor blacks in this country by preventing black babies from being born,” he said.
Cain, who has been to Iowa only once since August, said he had “done so well because I’m connecting with the people”.
On Sunday night allegations emerged that two women at the National Restaurant Association had complained of sexual harassment by Cain when he was running the organisation in the 1990s. They eventually left with financial settlements, according to politico.com. Cain has denied any wrongdoing, with his campaign dismissing the “old and tired allegations” and saying the matter had been resolved amicably among all concerned.
The Iowa poll also revealed a precipitous plunge in support for the Tea party favourite Michele Bachmann, an Iowa native, putting her in fourth place, with 8%. Unlike Cain and Romney, Bachmann has been campaigning heavily in the state in recent weeks.
Her Iowa campaign manager, Eric Woolson, said he was confident she would still win the primary in January.
“Poll numbers have bounced up and down on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis,” Woolson said. “We’ll see much more of that before caucus night – but one thing I’m convinced of is that Michele Bachmann will come out on top on 3 January.”