WASHINGTON — Former pizza executive Herman Cain has vaulted to the lead of Republican presidential contenders in a national poll released Wednesday.

The new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll gave Cain, known for blunt talk and his succinct "9-9-9" tax-slashing plan, 27 percent of likely Republican primary voters.

It was the first major poll showing Cain grabbing the lead from former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who was pushed into second place with 23 percent in the phone survey.

The pollsters queried 1,000 adults between October 6-10, of which 336 identified themselves as Republicans, who were then asked about their preferred candidate.

Cain has seen a jump of 22 percentage points from six weeks ago in the poll, reflecting disenchantment with the other GOP candidates.

Texas Governor Rick Perry's numbers plummeted to 16 percent, down from 38 percent in August.

Libertarian congressman Ron Paul was fourth with 11 percent, followed by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (eight percent), Representative Michele Bachmann (five percent) and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (three percent).

The poll was conducted before Tuesday's debate where Cain brushed off attacks on his bare bones tax plan. The margin of error for the Republican voter sample is 5.35 percentage points.

Several Republicans attacked the "9-9-9" plan touted by Cain, a former Godfather's Pizza chief executive, which would scrap the US tax code in favor of a nine percent national sales tax, corporate tax and individual tax.

A Gallup poll released Monday found Romney barely in the lead, at 20 percent, followed by Cain at 18 percent and Perry at 15 percent.

Photo credit: John Trainor