‘How many of you think Herman Cain won the debate?”
Twenty hands shot up.
“Well, we can stop right there,” said Frank Luntz, a fast-talking political consultant, as he paced before a Fox News focus group on May 5. “This is unprecedented.”
Luntz pointed to the top row, looking for answers. One by one, South Carolina Republicans in trucker caps and business suits raved about Cain. After watching the 65-year-old spar with fellow GOP presidential contenders, many were itching to join his ranks.
“He’s a breath of fresh air,” explained one gentleman. “He is the godfather of business sense, and he can attack Obama well,” declared a middle-aged lady. Others nodded vigorously.
Luntz was stunned. “[Cain] was not a real candidate before tonight,” he exclaimed. “What happened?”
Cain chuckles about the bewildered Beltway response to his star turn. “You never know what to expect with these sorts of things,” he says. “You never know if the perception is going to be ‘everybody was the same,’ i.e. mediocre, or somebody is going to say something that creates some separation.”
Cain, a former corporate executive and talk-radio host, did more than that; he won over a slew of Republicans pining for a 2012 candidate. Though he was standing among better-known Republicans such as Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul, Cain’s rich baritone, business smarts, and sharp one-liners connected.