WASHINGTON -- The Republican presidential race is being shaken up again, with Mitt Romney retaking the lead, Newt Gingrich surging into second place and Herman Cain dropping to third, according to a new McClatchy-Marist nationwide poll released Friday.
The poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents signaled that Romney retains his steady if uncommanding position and that, in the quest by most Republicans for an alternative, they have cooled on Cain and are turning to Gingrich.
The national survey was the first taken entirely since the allegations of sexual harassment against Cain erupted into a full political firestorm this week.
"Clearly this race has taken yet another dramatic turn. The top tier has gotten more crowded," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.
"Romney is still where he's been. It's fair to say this is a battle for the anybody-but-Romney candidate," Miringoff said.
"Gingrich has now begun his 15 days of fame. Whether he is able to maintain that, as others have fallen, is the question," Miringoff said.
"He may be the only one standing when this is all said and done."
The breakdown of the poll:
The survey of 347 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents was conducted Tuesday through Thursday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.
The Cain controversy rose to a new level of intensity starting Monday when a woman, Sharon Bialek, put her name and face behind charges that Cain had made an aggressive sexual advance against her in Washington in 1997.
The poll suggested support sinking for Cain since then, as a second of four women accusing Cain of inappropriate behavior went public, and Cain gave a highly publicized news conference Tuesday denying the charges.
Cain's support had shot from single digits in national polls as late as Labor Day to an average of 23 percent in recent polls compiled by the website RealClearPolitics.
He had been neck and neck atop the contest with Romney for a month, but the sexual harassment controversy appears to be taking a toll.