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10.05.11

Why NOT Herman Cain?

Presidential flirts Palin and Christie are out, and with early favorites Perry and Bachmann faltering, 2012 is shaping up as an unconventional race—so why wouldn’t GOP primary voters choose the unconventional Herman Cain?

Cinderella Palin is not going to the ball. Dream date Christie is out. Meanwhile, the Cain Train is chugging along—and gaining steam.

That nonpolitician Herman Cain is gaining ground in national GOP presidential polling may come as a surprise to the established and elite, but it’s not that big a leap for enthusiastic conservatives already aboard the Cain Train. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza wins support with his passion, personal appeal, and his ability to cut through with clear, concise messages that make perfect sound bites. His 9-9-9 economic plan—a 9 percent business tax, 9 percent individual tax, and 9 percent national sales tax—is far easier to digest than Mitt Romney’s 59-point plan.

And at a time when trust in politicians is low, Cain reeks of authenticity. So much so, he sometimes stumbles rhetorically. He’s had to backtrack on statements about Muslim Americans serving in his administration and for accusing Texas Gov. Rick Perry of racial insensitivity before he was aware of all the facts in “Stonegate.”

But Cain has the momentum. After winning the straw poll in Florida, Cain is now tied with Perry in the most recent Fox News and Washington Post polls, though both are still behind Romney. Cain also won the National Federation of Republican Women straw poll, and he has the highest positive intensity scores as measured by Gallup, with a high of 30, versus 15 for Perry, 13 for Romney, and 11 for Newt Gingrich. Cain still lags in name recognition, though, at 55 percent among Republicans.

But his big mo may stall out. Oddly, Cain is sidetracking his campaign for a few weeks to promote his new book, This Is Herman Cain!: My Journey to the White House, with no visits planned to Iowa until November.

Cain is not a conventional candidate. That a candidate with no governing or legislative experience is connecting so strongly with some voters is a sure sign of disenchantment not only with President Obama but perhaps the rest of the Republican field’s performances at this point.

With some of the favorites, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann and Perry, surging and falling within weeks, this doesn’t seem to be a conventional race. Still, for perspective, let’s look back to 2008. John McCain ran a distant second to Rudy Giuliani through much of 2007. The heated debate at this same point in the campaign season was whether Giuliani could defeat the then-likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. McCain did not lead the polls until mid-January 2008, when he leapfrogged ahead of Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and the rest of the field of nine after winning the New Hampshire primary. His win in the Florida primary on Jan. 29 all but assured his victory on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.

That a candidate with no governing or legislative experience is connecting so strongly with some voters is a sure sign of disenchantment.

Cain’s plan: finish in the top three in Iowa and New Hampshire, then win South Carolina and Florida and some of these other states. But Cain has yet to be Palin-ized by some in the media as Perry has. And Rain-X Romney has so far repelled the sprinkling of attacks. The Real Clear Politics average of polls for 9/19–10/3 shows Romney still leading, but only by two over Perry and 10 over Cain.

But the race is not yet national. With the primary dates shuffling in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida, the final order of the early primaries and the magnitude of the wins may change the lead ahead of Super Tuesday.

A long journey is ahead, and voters are restless. With Christie out, many are anointing Romney as the nominee. But the nomination still runs through Iowa and New Hampshire.  And someone could pull a big surprise. Why not Herman Cain?