Don’t underestimate Herman Cain.
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While he enters the Republican presidential race as a long shot with low name recognition and little money, he has some underappreciated assets, and the field remains largely undefined. Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t count him out (and a couple reasons why you might be able to).
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1. He has a compelling life story.
Cain’s upbringing is a made-for-campaign life story: His parents were brought up by sharecroppers who left their farms. They both worked full-time; his father juggled multiple jobs while Cain and his brother slept in the kitchen of the family’s small apartment when they were little. Cain went on to become the first in his family to attend college, and eventually rose to become a vice president at Pillsbury before buying Godfather’s Pizza. He is a self-made man, rising from the lower middle class in the segregated South to become a corporate titan.
2. Once people get to know him, they love him.
With a background in the business community and never having held elected office, Cain has had to hit the ground running. He has already visited Iowa 14 times in the past year, as many times as any other candidate. And Cain’s Atlanta-based talk radio show reached early-voting South Carolina, so he is better known in the Palmetto State than other places, which is already paying dividends.
According to a focus group conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, Cain handily won the first presidential debate, held there earlier this month. Anchors for Fox News, which hosted the debate, had nothing but praise for Cain at the end of the event. And according to a recent Gallup poll, while Cain was one of the least-known candidates among likely GOP primary voters, he was the best-liked among those who knew him.
3. He is not a flip-flopper.
Cain has not supported any positions now considered heretical to the GOP base, like climate-change legislation (like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman) or like an individual mandate to health care (like Romney and Newt Gingrich). Cain, in fact, has more than enough credibility, and video evidence, with the base on health care, a defining issue of the 2012 race. When then-President Clinton was trying to sell health care reform in 1994, Cain—as head of the lobbying group the National Restaurant Association—challenged Clinton’s economic assumptions on the plan during a nationally televised town hall meeting.
4. He has ties with the tea party movement and Evangelicals.
Unlike some candidates who have had to try to jump on the bandwagon, Cain was an early member of the tea party movement, and many in his campaign staff come from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that spent huge sums helping the GOP win control of the House in 2010.
And with Mike Huckabee’s decision not to run, as an Evangelical conservative, Cain could rally like-minded voters. His home base of Atlanta could also allow him to make gains in the South. He will, however, have to compete with many other candidates for that mantle. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., will likely announce soon and has close ties to the tea party movement, religious conservatives, and her original home state of Iowa. Pawlenty also appeals to religious conservatives, has invested in the early-voting states, and is from a state bordering Iowa. Former Sen. Rick Santorum also has iron-clad conservative Christian values and loves riling up the base. If Sarah Palin decides to run, she could also rally a devoted base of followers.
5. He’s a true outsider.
Cain has never held elected office, which in this year and in his party is an asset. Numerous Republican businessmen with no political experience won office last election, while some career politicians faltered in GOP primaries to conservative outsiders. His deep, sonorous voice, made for sound-bites speaking style, and the fact that he’s a black man who could take race out of the equation for Obama are all selling points to primary voters.
His lack of experience as a candidate has shown itself at times, such as his tendency for unforced gaffes. (One of his favorite openings to a sentence is: “I promised my [communications director] I wouldn’t talk about this, but …”) He has also taken heat for stating he wouldn’t appoint any Muslims in his government.
Still, in a wide-open GOP field and a year where outsider status is an asset, Cain could be a real contender. This time four years ago, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Romney were the purported front-runners, former Sen. Fred Thompson was the buzz-worthy dark horse candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was considered a dead man running, and Huckabee wasn’t considered at all. A lot can change between now and the primaries, and Cain has many of the tools needed to win in Iowa and South Carolina. Don’t write him off.