THE VILLAGES, Fla.—Freshly ensconced at the top of Republican presidential polls, businessman Herman Cain on Wednesday said his challenge now will be not to have his success derailed by the added scrutiny that comes with being a top-tier contender.
“The biggest challenge is to continue the momentum,” Cain told National Journal/CBS News in an interview. “And that means, No. 1, we’ve got to fight off all of the erroneous accusations. They’re now going to nitpick everything that I say down to the bone. That’s OK, I’m ready for it. But we want to continue this momentum by getting out and meeting as many people as we possibly can.”
Cain is tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the lead in the increasingly turbulent race for the Republican presidential nomination, according to a new CBS News poll released Tuesday—the third poll in the last 24 hours to show Cain at least with a share of second place.
The former Godfather’s Pizza executive attributed his success to several factors, including his well-regarded performance in the recent slew of presidential debates and his first-place finish in last month’s Florida straw poll.
“The big one that really boosted our attention and boosted the volunteers, and boosted the fundraising, was that Florida straw poll,” he said. “Why? Because the people who voted in that Florida straw poll were actual delegates, which meant that they were well-informed, and they were making very critical decisions about who they wanted to support.”
Cain also has benefitted from being a fresh face and a political outsider courting a Republican voting bloc that has made clear its disgust with politics as usual. He has centered his campaign around an easy-to-understand “9-9-9” proposal, which calls for eliminating the current tax system and replacing it with a 9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent corporate income tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax.
“Herman Cain is the only business problem solver that’s running for president of the United States,” Cain told some of the more than 300 supporters who showed up at a Barnes & Noble book signing to huge applause. “Now, Mitt Romney tries to say that that’s him. But, see, he was a Wall Street executive; I was a Main Street executive. I’ve actually made pizzas, made hamburgers, cleaned restaurants, swept the parking lot, OK? I’ve done all that.”
He acknowledged that such events for his book, This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House—which ranked 10th on Amazon.com’s bestsellers list on Wednesday afternoon—are not a traditional way of campaigning. But he said they serve the purpose of increasing his name identification, which has lagged behind that of other candidates.
“I have one of the lowest name IDs in this campaign,” Cain said. “And so this book tour not only is going to help promote books, but to get my name ID up. So when people criticize me for being off the campaign trail, that criticism doesn’t hold water.”
Cain showed his ability to connect with voters at the Barnes & Noble. Dressed casually in a sweater vest, he at one point he recognized a man who had attended his events before, called him by name, and asked how his sister was doing. When a woman asked him for a hug, his aide said it couldn’t be done—but Cain overruled him and came out from behind the counter to oblige. “Sometimes I break the rules,” he said.
At a subsequent appearance in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Cain weighed in on the anti-Wall Street protests, saying he considers their message “anti-American” and that protestors should instead be taking their frustrations out on President Obama.
“This country was based upon people being able to achieve their dreams the old-fashioned way; the way a lot of people have. And to be angry at somebody because they’re successful is anti-American, in my opinion,” he said.
Cain added, “Why be mad you don’t have a job at the bankers and Wall Street? They’re the ones that helped create the jobs. Why not be angry at the president, who has had failed policies, spent a trillion dollars, it didn’t stimulate the economy, now he wants to spend another $450 billion, and they’re over here protesting on Wall Street? They’re protesting the wrong place.”