Herman Cain sees an opening.
As numerous big-name Republicans drop out of the race, Cain, a former pizza magnate, tells National Review Online that he can win the GOP presidential nod.
“I can’t say who else might get in,” Cain says. “But if you look at the announced candidates — Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and me — I think my chances of getting the nomination are just as great as their chances, and probably better than some of them.”
“People are looking for a candidate,” Cain explains, days after he announced his run at an Atlanta rally. “Fewer people are competing for the same votes and the same dollars. We have a real opportunity to pick up some support.”
The polls back up his confidence. A new Gallup survey shows Cain with a huge following among conservatives who are paying attention to the 2012 campaign. “Cain, although still not widely known, has the highest ‘positive intensity score’ among Republicans of any potential GOP candidate still in the race,” Gallup reports. “His ‘positive intensity score’ of 27 matches the highest yet recorded for any candidate or potential candidate this year.”
Cain, a longtime Georgia resident, predicts that he can build a national network of conservatives — and fill the void in the GOP primary for a southern man. He thinks that he can perform very well in South Carolina’s primary and, as a fresh voice in Iowa and New Hampshire, rise quickly.
“I do not believe that the South, nor Georgia, is necessarily Newt Gingrich’s territory, simply because of the experience that he has there,” Cain says. “We are going to do well in all of these early states. People are connecting with my message, with my commonsense solutions and my passion.”
“People know that I am not just giving a stump speech,” he continues. “I am giving speeches about what is in my head and in my heart. That is resonating. So I am going to keep doing what I have been doing, which is building a ‘bottom-up’ campaign around the country.”
Cain acknowledges that his momentum has not garnered much media coverage. After toiling for months under the radar, he is ready to “call names.”
“ABC, CBS, and NBC are pretending that I don’t exist,” Cain says. “Occasionally, they ask me to come do an interview; then, right before it happens, they cancel it. There are a couple of theories out there about why this is the case. One is that I am the last person they’d like to see run against Barack Obama.”
Cain pauses. “Just a theory,” he chuckles.
On the fiscal front, Cain promises to support Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, especially as other contenders, such as Gingrich, shy away from the proposal.
“I absolutely support Paul Ryan’s plan,” Cain says. “It is exactly the kind of bold restructuring that we need in order to get our hands around the entitlements issue. We need to restructure programs, not just reshuffle, which is what we did for decades, and now look where we are.”
“Liberals are trying to make it seem like we are going to throw old people off of the bridge,” Cain grumbles as he details the response to Ryan’s budget. “That is a lie. That is all they can say, because they don’t want to fix the status quo.”
Regardless of the results in Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 26th congressional district, Cain urges Republicans to “run on” the Ryan budget in 2012.
“I have always followed the principle that once people understand something, they will support it and they will demand it,” Cain says. “I think that we ought to run on it, but we are going to have to do the heavy lifting to make sure that people understand it.”
Turning to trade, Cain tells me that he will not use China as a piñata on the trail. Although he has concerns about some of the country’s trade practices, “China is not the problem,” he says. “Our economic growth is the problem. If we can start to grow in a robust fashion, we won’t even have to look back at China.”
Fundraising, however, remains a top priority for the 65-year-old businessman, who has never held political office. “I’ll be honest with you, I had to put in some initial capital to get my campaign going,” he says. “But I never intended to trust fund my campaign. Yes, I had to put some money in, and I have no regrets about that. But the good news is that beyond that, we are now doing very well, especially after the first debate in South Carolina.”
In recent weeks, Cain has reached out to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who has bowed out of the 2012 race, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who has not decided on a run but has spoken positively about Cain in the past. Cain also keeps in close contact with Rep. Michele Bachmann’s political team.
As a Baptist preacher, Cain hopes to connect with Palin, a prominent social conservative, and reach out to her supporters, should she choose to stay on the sidelines.
“We are reaching out to [Palin] as we speak,” Cain says. “She is not afraid to stir the pot; she is not afraid to call it like it is. A lot of people are hoping that she runs.”
“But if she does not,” he notes, “I want her to continue to say good things about me.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.