By Dick Morris on September 29, 2011

If you could feel the Earth move under your feet today or last night, it’s not an earthquake. It’s the new Fox News poll which shows Herman Cain vaulting into a third place finish, only 6 points from the lead in the GOP nomination race.

As expected and predicted, Romney has now passed Perry. Mitt gets 23% of the primary vote to Rick Perry’s 21%. But Cain comes in third at 17%!!! That’s an incredible surge for a candidate who had been languishing at 5% of the vote in most of the earlier polls.

He achieved his new momentum by doing very well in a series of debates. But why didn’t he surge until now? Because voters didn’t think he could win. But his performance in the Florida Straw Poll (he finished first getting almost twice as much as Romney who ran second) convinced voters that he was for real and that unleashed them to translate their admiration for his persona and debate performance into votes.

It’s not just that he is a businessman who, like Romney, has hands-on private sector experience. And its not just that he is black. It is that with Obama embracing the class warfare rhetoric, Cain offers a Republican path to the top for minority youth. While Obama teaches them to envy the rich, Cain believes in teaching them to become rich. As Obama speaks about the importance of handouts and entitlements, Cain focuses on hard work, self-improvement, and education. Obama shows how you can move up in politics and government. But Cain shows how you can make it in business.

The rest of the Fox News poll is also important.

• Newt Gingrich has moved up to 11% of the vote, a solid showing and above the 6-8 percent he had been registering. Maybe his obvious platform skills and his effectiveness in debate is finally getting through to voters.

• Ron Paul, thank the Lord, has fallen back to the status he deserves, winning only 6% of the vote. Probably because of his offensive view that we brought 9-11 on ourselves, Paul is now polling like the kook he is.

• Michele Bachmann has fallen way back, even as Cain has surged, dropping to only 3% in the poll. She and Cain have always been the real rivals for the Tea Party votes and, like kids on a see-saw, as Cain went up, she dropped.

What’s wrong with Michele? Why the sudden fall? Her candidacy has always benefited from the integrity and conservative consistency of her positions in Washington. After the shameful Boehner deal with Obama on the Continuing Resolution, where he walked away with nothing, conservatives have echoed Bachmann’s criticism of his leadership. But Boehner did a lot better in the debt limit fight, exacting $1.5 trillion in real savings from a reluctant president and a truculent Senate. That took away Bachmann’s thunder. Suddenly being odd-woman-out was not as important or appealing.

Of course, Bachmann will likely find plenty to object to when the Deficit Commission makes its recommendations and it’s a safe bet that she will stake out a position to the right of Boehner’s and will profit from the compromises Boehner will feel compelled to make. By then, perhaps, both she and Cain can be viable ether.

Some have lamented that Romney never gets the spotlight. First it was on Trump, then Daniels, then Huckabee, then Palin, then Perry, then Christie, and now Cain. But that’s how a front runner has to advance, in stealth behind the shadows of the other candidates, just as Obama advanced in Hillary’s shadow. You would think that having subdued Perry, Romney would be the target in the next debate. But here comes Cain to get his share of the flack.

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