Image: Herman Cain
Chris O'meara  /  AP
Republican presidential candidate businessman Herman Cain answers a question during a book signing Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
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updated 10/6/2011 9:21:06 AM ET 2011-10-06T13:21:06

Rick Perry's loss has been Herman Cain's gain.

As the Texas governor has tumbled in polls for the Republican race for president, Cain — the former pizza magnate and radio talk show host — has enjoyed a surge in support from a restless Republican electorate sifting through would-be suitors.

Cain has topped a slew of recent straw polls — tests of conservative activists — notably pulling off an upset in the battleground state of Florida. His fundraising has apparently picked up and his poll numbers are climbing, too. A new CBS survey had the Atlanta businessman in a statistical tie for the lead with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His just-released, rags-to-riches political memoir has landed among Amazon.com's top 10 best-sellers.

Yet, with his presidential campaign suddenly in the spotlight, Cain isn't canvassing in Iowa or New Hampshire but at a Barnes & Noble in St. Petersburg, Fla., as part of a two-week book tour to promote "This Is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House." He'll be hawking the optimistically titled memoir at appearances in Florida, Texas, Virginia and South Carolina, states likely to play key roles in the 2012 race.

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He's also made splashy national appearances on "The View" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and won't be back in Iowa — the first-in-the-nation caucus state — until next month.

Video: The Cain Train delivers a 9-9-9 special (on this page)

It's not the traditional strategy of a serious White House contender. But then Cain is not the traditional presidential candidate.

The former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza has never held elected office, having lost a 2004 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. In other years, such a sparse political resume might be disqualifying, but Cain is running for the tea party mantle and he brandishes the outsider status like a badge of honor.

Cain told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he's working hard to build his name recognition and the book tour — which has been interspersed with political events — helps do just that. Once supporters come aboard, he said, they stick.

"That's the reason I am not worried about being the flavor of the week," Cain told the AP. "Because we have a whole lot of substance we are putting out there, and Cain supporters do not defect."

Indeed, several hundred people packed a St. Petersburg bookstore Wednesday to meet the candidate.

"I like everything that he says and all his ideas," said Lynn Drag, a 62-year-old retiree from St. Petersburg. "I think he's more of a common-man kind of a person. He has specific ideas that I can understand. And he seems like a self-made man."

Steven C. Wright, a 59-year-old St. Petersburg-based church pastor, said part of Cain's appeal is his faith.

"He is a true, biblical Christian," he said. "I think that he's the real deal."

"Look at the turnout. I did not expect this," said Wright. "That shows he has a strong grass-roots effort."

But does Cain have the campaign infrastructure and fundraising muscle to capitalize on the momentum? Or will he flame out like other conservative darlings in the GOP race who've wilted under close scrutiny, such as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann?

Cain's Iowa organization has been beset with problems, prompting some caucus activists to look at other candidates. Cain's Iowa campaign manager and two top caucus organizers, including influential tea party activists, quit in late June, unhappy with the candidate's commitment to appearing in the state.

Video: Did Cain ‘brainwashed’ comment go too far?

Last election cycle, Cain lent himself $500,000 to keep his campaign afloat.

And even in his home state of Georgia, where Cain enjoys strong tea party support, elected officials and deep-pocketed donors have pledged their allegiance elsewhere.

Republican strategist Dan McLagan, a veteran of four presidential races, called Cain "this week's Michele Bachmann until he shows some organizational strength and fundraising ability."

But McLagan also credited Cain for pushing a tax reform plan that's resonating with voters hungry for solutions.

"And that could serve as a lesson to the others to find something to be for," he said.

Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan is the centerpiece of his campaign and has the catchy ring of a Godfather's pizza promotion.

It would scrap the current tax code and replace it with a 9 percent tax on corporations and personal income as well as a 9 percent national sales tax. The sheer simplicity of the change, Cain argues, would boost the economy. Conservatives generally like the plan. Some liberals argue it would harm lower- and middle-income families.

But the sudden buzz surrounding Cain reflects more of the unsettled nature of the Republican race — with conservatives trying out and then rejecting would-be suitors — than it does Cain himself.

"He is the next guy to go through the conservative vetting process and will have to prove to be able to beat both Romney and (President Barack) Obama for conservatives to embrace him," said Erick Erickson, who runs the conservative blog RedState.

"If he can't show that, conservatives will probably go back to Perry."

Video: Politics Panel: The Luckiest Man in Politics (on this page)

Cain has also had his share of stumbles, mostly on foreign policy and Islam.

An African-American, Cain likes to say that he is American first, black second and conservative third. But he's created some waves in the black community by suggesting that blacks have been "brainwashed" to vote Democratic.

"A lot of black Americans are thinking for themselves. Now there are some that are so brainwashed that they won't even consider a conservative idea," he said on "The View" this week.

Still, new polls give the Cain camp reason to be hopeful. The son of a chauffeur and a maid, Cain seems to have a quality that some other rivals lack: likability.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll out early this week found that 47 percent of voters said the more they get to know about Cain the more they like him. That tops the GOP field.

The latest Gallup poll measure Cain's "positive intensity" score at 30, the highest Gallup has measured for any GOP presidential candidate to date.

"The media has tried to make this a two-person race," Cain told the AP. "But I think what we are seeing is that the voice of the people is more powerful than the media."

_____

Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Politics Panel: The Luckiest Man in Politics

  1. Closed captioning of: Politics Panel: The Luckiest Man in Politics

    >>> time responding to chris christie 's decision not to run. he became very popular.

    >> competition is it always a good thing. he would have been a very fine contender, an excellent competitor if he were in the race.

    >> the advice i had given by way of interviews, if his heart's not in it, he should not do it.

    >> whether governor christie is in or not, i have the same message. mr. governor paul lenty was in or not, hit same message.

    >> i wasn't sitting on pins and needles waiting for the reaction.

    >>> call lean coowe have our panel joini ng us. okay. the chris christie hysteria is over. how is the new york media market going to handle it now?

    >> i know. we're falling apart, aren't we?

    >> what's going on here? there is no new yorker in the race. what are we going to do?

    >> i was hoping that you could play that song that you were playing earlier again if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.

    >> it's a crosby stills and nash song.

    >> i'm not old enough to know that, chuck.

    >> very nice.

    >> you know, did we really expect he would get in? there was a fever sort of building in the last few days. but i think now it's sort of all eyes are turning to mitt romney and what happens now.

    >> and, jennifer, this is what the race is. to me, it's romney versus perry or romney versus romney ?

    >> i think it's romney versus romney . he has had the benefit of being the luckiest man in politics this time around.

    >> i find that was an interesting way you wrote that blog.

    >> he's had --

    >> very lucky.

    >> or just good enough. he's had a series of frankly not very competent, not very impressive opponents who have fallen by the way side one by one. first tim pawlenty disappears and then michelle bachmann . you have to admire they're very focused. they're very determined. yesterday they spent the day on the phones calling in all that cash that chris christie was leaving on the table. they had their eye on the ball. he's getting a big speech on friday on foreign policy . they think they send the candidate out. he's impressive and polished and they're going to roll through the early primary.

    >> ultimately, the thing he hasn't answered yet is how is he going to handle it when there are millions of dollars hit him on the issue of health care ? he's able to duck it. watch what he did yesterday in the town hall .

    >> you were a republican governor in mr. frank's state. they have characterized your program as junior obama care. what are you going to do?

    >> first of all, i know something about health care . for a couple reasons. one, i worked in health care in the private sector . and then, of course, as governor, i found that 8% of the people in our state didn't have insurance. and 92% did. i want to get the 8% insured.

    >> you know, david, it is remarkable. the question was tough, right? he's coming in here. you're junior obama care and drops barney frank 's name, you know, just throw it in there and, yet, romney was able to dodge it. you can't do it on paid television ads.

    >> you're not. there is something very interesting about where romney is in this race. we know everything that we need to know about him that we don't like and yet he still is where he is. whether it's rick perry or a few of the other candidates, maybe herman cain now, we don't know everything there is to know. they haven't said everything will is to say. and with romney , he still has a quarter of the electorate despite romney care and despite everything else that doesn't appeal to the republican primary electora electorate. that tells me he's in a great position if he keeps focusing on the core strength, job, economy, health care , experience and his executive experience. if he gets to that point, one thung he cou thing he could run on is he's been a governor for four years. he's been in the private sector and he has the experience that maybe even a president doesn't have. that's all he has. now could it all fall apart? sure. rick perry can catch fire again. other candidates can eat into him.

    >> the last time i felt as if we saw a president get elected where the base fell in like, not in love, was richard nixon in '68. that is a hard thing to do when your base is only in like with you.

    >> it's a really hard thing to do. when you talk to the people at the white house , they expect that president obama will be running against mitt romney . they mitt romney . they think he will probably be the toughest opponent that they could possibly have, but there's a lot of glee right now when they look at how much trouble the republican party is having going against into voting booths and pulling that lever for him.

    >> it still means 75% aren't there.

    >> when you think about the fact that he's --

    >> you're right about that, but again, we know everything you need to know about romney and yet he's been able to hang around.

    >> most people think he's the best possible chance that the republican party has of beating president obama and they still don't want to vote for him.

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