Campaign 2012: Hello Herman Cain, GOP Presidential Candidate
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Campaign 2012: Hello Herman Cain, GOP Presidential Candidate

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Herman Cain takes the stage to address the Conservative Political Action conference in Washington on February 11, 2011.  (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)
Herman Cain takes the stage to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in February 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)

What if when Americans go to the polls on November 6, 2012 the Democratic and Republican candidates are both African Americans? That will be what happens if Herman Cain gets his way. The former head of Godfather’s Pizza and former nationally syndicated radio talk show host announced his presidential exploratory committee back in January. Cain’s chances to become the first African American to win the GOP nomination may be slim, but then again, it’s a wide open nomination field.

The Basics

  • Full Name: Herman Cain
  • Date of Birth: December 13, 1945
  • Place of Birth: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Religion: Baptist
  • Marital Status: Married (Gloria Cain)
  • Children: Melanie Cain, Vincent Cain
  • Alma Mater: BA Morehouse College, MA Purdue
  • Elected Offices Held: None. In 2004, he lost the Republican Senate primary in Georgia to Johnny Isakson. He was deputy chairman (1992–94) and chairman (1995–96) of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

What Supporters Say. The people who like Cain don’t just like him. They love him. Martha Zoller, the host of a popular conservative radio talk show says:

Herman Cain is an unconventional politician and a leader in every way. He makes things happen and understands the two things lacking in the current administration – American exceptionalism and economic principles.

Part of Cain’s appeal is that he is a superb motivational speaker. He speaks clearly, simply, and with great passion. As Maurice Atkinson, the leader of the Draft Cain movement, which is trying to convince him to formally declare his candidacy, supports him because:

He has the ability to really have the “wow” factor.

Some names from the past are rooting for Cain. You many have thought (or hoped) that Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher had returned to private life. But no, he has thrown his support from McCain to Cain. He says Cain is an extremely “smart man who I think would do a great job.”

What Critics Say. Political veterans like Newt Gingrich leave a lot of unhappy people in their wake. It’s a cost of doing business. If Herman Cain has many enemies, they are keeping quiet. It’s likely to stay that way unless he mounts a serious run for the nomination. The leaders of the pack in a nominating race seldom train their fire on those pulling up the rear.

Stories You Will Hear More About. Cain’s father was a chauffeur, barber, and janitor. His mother was a maid.

No one can dispute Cain’s business prowess. In 1977, at the age of 32, he became the youngest vice president in the history of the Pillsbury Company. He had been with the firm for just three years. In 1982, he left his vice president position to learn the restaurant business in Pillsbury’s Burger King subsidiary. He eventually turned around more than 450 failing Burger Kings. That led Jack Kemp to dub him the “Colin Powell of the restaurant industry.” Cain subsequently purchased a chain of pizza restaurants and became chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza.

When Cain traded in his position overseeing corporate systems and services for Pillsbury for the Burger King job, he didn’t trade one corporate suite for another. He instead started at the bottom, cleaning toilets and grilling burgers in a Minneapolis Burger King. When he completed the management training program, he was put in charge of the Burger King’s Philadelphia region.

Cain’s first encounter with politics on the national stage came in 1994 at a town hall meeting in Kansas with Bill Clinton. Cain told Clinton in front of the assembled crowd that the cost of implementing the president’s proposed health care bill would force him to fire some of his employees. When Clinton said that wasn’t true, Cain insisted that the president was flat wrong. Cain subsequently dubbed himself the Hermanator. Newsweek called him one of the “real saboteurs” to Clinton’s health care bill.

Cain is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with stage four colon and liver cancer in 2006. (TWE Public Service Announcement: If you are over the age of fifty, please have a colonoscopy regularly per the American Cancer Society’s guidelines.) He says he wouldn’t have survived his cancer if Obamacare had been in place back then. That line plays well with conservative Republicans.

Cain in His Own Words. Cain attributes his success to his drive and focus, but also to his experience as an African American:

Because I am a black American, I’ve had to perform better than my white counterparts. This is a personal standard that I’ve set for myself: I’ve got to perform a little better in order to get the same opportunity. I can’t just be as good; I’ve got to be better. It should not be this way, but it is.

Cain believes that the Tea Party movement gives him an opening that previously didn’t exist to run a credible campaign.

The political landscape has changed dramatically because of the citizens’ movement spurred by the Tea Party movement….Based upon me being very active in that citizens movement, talking to dozens and dozens and dozens of Tea Party rallies, events, conferences all over this country, I believe that people have a better attitude for an unconventional candidate—someone who’s more of a problem-solver than a politician.

The Campaign Book. Cain doesn’t have one. At least not yet. But he has written three business leadership books—Leadership Is Common Sense (1997), Speak As a Leader (1997), and CEO of Self (2001). He was also inspired by this losing Senate run in 2004 to pen a book that takes shots at both political parties—They Think You’re Stupid: Why Democrats Lost Your Vote and What Republicans Must Do to Keep It (2005):

This book makes the case for why voters are not as dumb as Democrats think, and why voters are smarter than Republicans think. Too many people inside the major political parties have forgotten that we are all in the same boat now. Terrorists want to kill all of us. The current tax code and Social Security structure will bankrupt all of us. The Medicare mess is driving the costs of health care up and its quality down for all of us. We are all citizens of the United States of America first. These big, bodacious, unsolved problems are the enemies of us all. We are all in the same floundering boat.

In case you haven’t guessed, Cain’s brand of politics is populism all the way. The elites take us for granted, it is time for all of us to stand up for what we believe, and Cain will lead the way.

Foreign Policy Views. Cain has not said much at all about issues such as the Chinese currency, the Six Party talks, the International Criminal Court, or relations with ASEAN. We should learn what Cain thinks about these and other issues once the candidate debates begin. (He does agree with Ron Paul that the United States should return to the gold standard, a position not normally associated with the head of a Federal Reserve Bank.)

Target Audience. Cain’s message speaks to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. And Tea Partiers love him. He won the straw poll of activists at the Tea Party Patriots Summit in Phoenix in February with 22 percent of the vote. (Tim Pawlenty got 16 percent, and Ron Paul 15 percent.) He could be the big winner if Sarah Palin decides not to run. As Cain puts it: “From the standpoint of our conservative beliefs and values, Sarah Palin and I are probably identical.”

Major Strengths. Cain blends an inspiring personal story with tremendous speaking skills. He came from modest beginnings to become a successful businessman. He has survived cancer. He has served in the military. He isn’t easily intimidated, as Bill Clinton discovered. He could be a nightmare for his fellow candidates in a debate.

Major Weaknesses. Cain is a political unknown. So was Jimmy Carter when he tossed his hat in the ring, but he had been governor. Cain has no political organization on the ground in Iowa or anywhere else. Carter put the Iowa caucuses on the map with his efforts in the state. Cain has the personal wealth to launch a bid, but he needs to raise a lot more money to sustain it. That could be a Catch-22, as he recognizes:

The biggest barrier is a lot of contributors want to stay on the sidelines until they see how well you can do. A lot of people don’t back the person they want to win; they back the person who they think is going to win.

Cain’s biggest problem, though, is his lack of political experience. Every president but one since FDR had previously served as a member of Congress or governor. The only exception: Dwight D. Eisenhower. And he just happened to be the victorious commanding general of U.S. forces in Europe during World War II. If Cain captures the nomination, he will be charting a path that no one before him ever has.

Cain in Depth. The Atlantic calls Cain the GOP wildcard in 2012. Slate profiles the "pizza magnate who would be president." The Daily Beast paints an admiring picture of a man who is no stranger to challenges. "The Fix" has made the case for Cain, as well as the case against him.

Cain has done his share of media interviews. He has kindly collected many of them on his website.

Odds for Winning the Nomination. Cain is the longest of long shots to win the GOP nomination. He lacks a big bankroll, an established political organization, and name recognition.

A February 2011 Gallup poll found that Cain registered less than 1 percent support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That put him seventeenth among potential candidates named in the poll. doesn’t even give odds on Cain winning the GOP nomination. To put that in perspective, you can get odds on former Idaho Governor and Senator Dirk Kempthorne (430-to-1), Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (450-to-1), and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson (590-to-1)

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