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If Herman Cain flames out, who will rise among GOP?

Herman Cain's candidacy is under deadly fire. Rick Perry fell apart.

Michele Bachmann flamed out.

Could this be Jon Huntsman's moment to rise in the topsy-turvy Republican race for president? Or how about Newt Gingrich? Republican strategists and opinion leaders are starting to give both a second look as Cain fends off a string of sex-harassment charges.

Huntsman, in Florida Monday and Tuesday for fundraisers and Spanish-language media interviews, said he's sensing more momentum for a campaign that has languished in the single digits in public-opinion polls.

"I've been getting whiplash watching everybody rise and fall," Huntsman said Tuesday in Miami. "I think without question people are giving a second look."

They'll soon see a lot more of the former Utah governor and former ambassador to China and Singapore.

Along with his three daughters, Huntsman is scheduled to appear this week on Sean Hannity's Fox News show, and he said he might make a cameo this month on Saturday Night Live. He also garnered a little buzz in political circles Tuesday for his new web ad, "Scared Mittless," that jokingly chides Mitt Romney for limiting his appearances with the news media.

Perhaps the most important person to pay attention to Huntsman is Erick Erickson, a CNN contributor and conservative commentator with the influential RedState blog.

"I'm starting to think I need to walk it back on my rejection of Jon Huntsman," Erickson wrote at the tail-end of a lengthy analysis titled "Mitt Romney as the Nominee: Conservatism Dies and Barack Obama Wins."

"I'm starting to think even he (Huntsman) would be more faithful in his conservative convictions than Mitt Romney," wrote Erickson, who has repeatedly criticized Huntsman and is far from endorsing him.

Though polls show Romney is the best Republican to beat Obama in a match-up, Huntsman said the candidate's flip-flopping will ultimately be fatal.

"If you've been on both sides of the key issues of the day, you become virtually unelectable in the end," Huntsman said. "And so the key question will be: Who is electable against Barack Obama?"

Tea party conservatives appear to have far more fondness for Gingrich than for Huntsman, but Erickson noted the former U.S. House Speaker had repeated infidelity issues.

"Gingrich went on to cheat on the second wife with the third. Regardless of the actual facts or even the spin, he won't win women," Erickson wrote.

Gingrich has slowly, steadily risen in the polls in the meantime. So has the candidate with one of the most loyal followings, Ron Paul.

Cain skyrocketed to frontrunner status after winning the Republican Party of Florida's straw poll in September. His position at the top, though, seems in doubt amid a string of allegations that he sexually harassed women more than a decade ago.

Cain has denied the charges and fought back, but the steady flow of accusations threatens to rob him of frontrunner status. A recent Reuters/Ipsos shows Cain is still running strong, but his favorability ratings are starting to drop. The poll was taken before Sharon Bialek went public with her accusations Monday, and before another accuser was publicly identified and showed more of a willingness to talk.

Meantime, Cain's foreign-policy positions and his signature "9-9-9" plan have been derided by some Republicans as well. Cain, though, has said his fundraising his increased as supporters rally to his side.

Huntsman, who has a sizable private fortune to help underwrite expensive campaign ads, has staked his campaign's fortune's in New Hampshire, sight of the first GOP primary, where Romney leads comfortably.

"The strategy has always been a steady, substantive rise in New Hampshire. You don't want to be a shooting star. You want to be a rising star. We don't want to get 20 percent overnight and then fall," Huntsman said, noting the fates of Bachmann, Perry and Cain.

But Cain inspires conservatives. So does Gingrich. Huntsman doesn't, said Randy Nielsen, a top Florida Republican strategist who said Huntsman comes off as too moderate.

"The Republican primary electorate is not dominated by moderate, middle of the road voters," Nielsen said. "He's a candidate that is just out of place, like a Tiffany bracelet at a swap meet."

But Huntsman said critics "haven't taken a look at my record."

He ticked off his conservative bonafides: "Twice elected as governor to a conservative state, the second time with 80 percent of the vote. Pro-life, always have been. Pro-second amendment. Delivered the largest tax cuts in the history of our state. Second voucher bill for education in this entire country. Health care reform without a costly mandate like they have in Massachusetts. That's just to begin the list."

Florida Republican commentator and consultant Chris Ingram said Huntsman's conservative bonafides outweigh his transgressions: initial support for a cap-and-trade global-warming initiative, a moderate stance on immigration and the fact he was tapped by Barack Obama to be the nation's ambassador to China.

"People are taking a second, or a third look at Huntsman, and once you do he's not a bad guy. He's no less a conservative than Romney," Ingram said. "Huntsman needs to do a better job of dispelling this notion that he's this squish."

Said Huntsman: "You'll find I'm a problem-solving conservative. A moderate temperament, or attitude, should not be confused with a moderate record."

If Herman Cain flames out, who will rise among GOP? 11/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 7:30pm]

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