Chris Carlson, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidates businessman Herman Cain, left, shakes hands with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney before a Republican presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, in Las Vegas.

The race for the Republican presidential nomination is increasingly coming into focus, with the start of state primaries in January just months away.

Working in Mitt Romney's favor is the perception that he's the most likely GOP candidate to beat Pres. Barack Obama in a general election. A CNN poll conducted Oct. 14-16 shows 41 percent of Republicans think Romney is the most likely to beat Obama (Herman Cain finished second with 24 percent), and 51 percent of Republicans believe Romney will ultimately win the GOP nomination (with 18 percent, Cain again finished second).

USA Today columnist Chuck Raasch wrote Thursday, "Romney is winning the electability argument despite lingering doubts about his core beliefs and ability to connect to everyday Americans. … He's counting on riled up Republicans who believe that the country's economic health is so threatened under Obama that removing him is more important than any political purity test on their side."

Herman Cain — who won the Western Republican Leadership Conference straw poll in Las Vegas on Friday by edging Romney, 31-29 — tweaked his 9-9-9 tax plan Friday to both remove the 9 percent income tax for all families at or below the poverty line and incentivize businesses to invest in economically depleted regions.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports, "Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Americans in poverty would be exempt from his so-called 9-9-9 tax plan, days after an independent analysis found the proposal would mostly benefit high earners. 'If you are at or below the poverty level, your plan isn't 9-9-9,' Cain said in a speech today in Detroit. 'It's 9-0-9.' "

Texas Gov. Rick Perry may have dropped significantly during the past month, but he still figures prominently in the race given the GOP-leading $17 million his campaign raised during the third quarter. His latest selling point: including a flat tax as part of his economic policy models.

The Washington Post reported Friday, "Perry is making a bold grab for the conservative heart of the GOP with his decision to propose a flat tax as a core component of his economic recovery plan. A flat tax has been an elusive dream of conservative Republicans for decades, occasionally springing up on the fringes of presidential campaigns, most recently in Steve Forbes's White House runs in 1996 and 2000."

A new Rasmussen poll of Republicans in Iowa, where presidential caucuses will occur Jan. 3, shows Cain and Romney comfortably ahead of the rest of the field.

"Cain is in front with 28 percent followed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 21 percent. Congressman Ron Paul is a distant third at 10 percent followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 9 percent, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann at 8 percent, and Texas Governor Rick Perry at 7 percent. The sixth place finish for Perry is a sharp decline from early September when Perry was the frontrunner both nationally and in Iowa."