Rick Santorum and ‘Happy Herman’ Cain Talk Debate Strategy

by Kyle O. Peterson

Greenville, S.C. — The first GOP debate of the 2012 presidential season is mere hours away, and candidates are already milling about downtown Greenville glad-handing with supporters.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was ambling toward lunch down North Main Street, an upscale area near the debate site, when National Review Online caught up with him between Sticky Fingers RibHouse and a sushi shop.

Santorum seemed at ease, joking and exchanging pleasantries with well-wishers on the street, not bothered by the impending media firestorm.

“It’s just another day,” he said. “One of the beautiful things about technology is you can’t change your message depending on who you’re in front of anymore, because you’re in front of everybody every day.”

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, told NRO he’s trying to focus on being “Happy Herman” to keep himself in the right frame of mind for the debate.

“If you go into an event like this with a positive attitude, you will end up with a positive result,” he said.

The field for tonight’s event, which will be aired by Fox News, includes Santorum and Cain, along with former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, and Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas). Many pundits have described Pawlenty as the top contender among the five.

But Cain takes exception to being labeled as a second-tier candidate and said he doesn’t think his lack of political experience will hurt him.

“You’re going to see in Herman Cain a real leader — someone who possesses real leadership ability and not just positionship,” he said. “There’s a big difference between leadership and positionship, and I think people are going to see that.”

Cain said Pres. Barack Obama’s failure to lead on positive economic reform has provided an opening for a strong GOP candidate.

“Oh, he is very vulnerable. He’s going to have to do more than kill one terrorist to pull this out,” Cain said. “One good decision doth not a presidency make.”

Santorum argued that his national experience will set him apart from the pack in tonight’s debate.

“I’ve been out there on a national level taking on a lot of tough issues — issues that a lot of people don’t want to take on, like Social Security reform, entitlement reform, pro-life issues, pro-family issues,” he said. “It’s one thing to say you believe these things; another thing to step out, then, and represent them in the tough state that I have.”

And though Obama’s approval rating sits near a comfortable 50 percent, Santorum said he has defeated incumbent Democrats before and isn’t intimidated by polls.

“When I won my first race, six months before the election, I was six percent name recognition and no money. And I won,” he said. “Long odds, being at the back of the pack — that’s just music to my ears.”

The debate is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. EST. Until then, candidates in Greenville will be shaking hands, talking strategy, and recharging for the long night ahead.

“The schedule now is for Happy Herman to get some lunch and then go and take a happy nap,” Cain said with a laugh.

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