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The Hermanator cometh: Does Herman Cain have a shot?

October 05, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Spencer Platt / Getty Images )

Herman Cain is the Republican equivalent of an iPhone.

He seems new, hot and offers features (9-9-9) you don’t find with other candidates.

Hermanmentum is official. A CBS News poll out Wednesday puts the former pizza chain executive on top of the GOP field, along with reliable standby Mitt Romney. That’s right. Rewind the tape if you didn’t quite catch that.

The CBS poll has Cain and Romney tied at 17% apiece, followed by tumbling Rick Perry at 12% and Ron Paul at 11%. It comes a day after a new ABC News/Washington Post survey showed Cain in second, trailing Romney by nine points. (The Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling has Cain leading among Republican voters in North Carolina, Nebraska and West Virginia.)

The decision Tuesday by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to forgo a run leaves the GOP presidential field essentially set, barring a late-game Sarah Palin bid, someone breaking the glass and pulling Jeb Bush out of a metal box, or the successful reanimation of Ronald Reagan.

Accordingly, there are two ways to view poll data that show Cain, a non-politician with little by way of a national campaign network, near the top of the heap:

1)      The race has reached a state of pure, screaming chaos,

2)      It’s Romney’s game to lose.

Nobody had a better day Tuesday than Romney. A Christie run would have blown a hole in his electoral strategy. Polls show Perry weakened. And the accelerating primary calendar offers him a chance to stake a commanding lead in delegates early in the race.

Still, Romney remains anything but a sure thing. Cain’s current surge is yet another iteration of what has become a nearly obsessive quest by conservatives to find someone to take Romney on. (See also: Trump, Donald and Bachmann, Michele.)

Perry was to be that champion, and despite his recent struggles, there is no reason to count him out-- especially after his campaign announced Wednesday that it hauled in $17 million in just 50 days during the third-quarter fundraising period.

But Perry has significant work to do on multiple fronts. He has to reassure voters nervous about his stances on immigration and Social Security and in doing so, he has to start showing signs of life in critical states such as Florida.

As for Cain? His current run illustrates something that has been easy to forget amid all the jockeying between Romney and Perry for position: Some voters remain truly hungry for an outsider, someone they view as untainted by the political system. Add to that Cain’s business background and a compelling personal story that includes surviving liver and colon cancer and you have a package that some conservatives right now find appealing.

But there are significant questions about whether Cain is even a viable candidate. The media attention he’s getting now will no doubt boost his effort, but in terms of money and organization, he hasn’t been competitive. (In fact, his communications director just quit.) At the moment, he’s on a book tour that doesn’t have him scheduled to return to Iowa until November.

There are reasons, however, to pay attention. Palin, for example, has long argued that celebrity combined with social media can help close the gap between established candidates and insurgents. If Cain could truly go viral, it’s possible he could put himself in a position to win a state such as Iowa or South Carolina and upend a race that may -- or may not -- be settling down.

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