Politics & Policy

Cain Speaks After Straw-Poll Victory

The win demonstrates his grassroots appeal.

Herman Cain is the first to admit he wasn’t sure he could pull off a win at Florida’s Presidency 5 straw poll Saturday.

“We expected to do well, but we did not expect necessarily to win it, and we certainly didn’t expect to win it by such a large margin,” he tells National Review Online.

Cain views his surprise win as a pushback against the media’s narrative about the GOP primary.

#ad#“The voice of the people is more powerful than the voice of the media. The media has been trying to turn this into a two-person race,” Cain says, noting that coverage prior to the straw poll had been fixated on Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

“When the media’s not happy with who are the supposed frontrunners,” Cain adds, “they keep trying to recruit somebody else. So now they’re saying ‘Well, it’s wide open, Governor Christie, why don’t you get in the race?’” Cain thinks the media doesn’t represent what Republicans are thinking. “The people in Florida said, ‘the voice of the people is going to make that determination.’”

His resounding success, Cain argues, also shows that message trumps money when it comes to wooing voters. “I rented a bus and went around the state giving my message of common-sense solutions, talking about my 9-9-9 economic plan, and it resonated with people,” he remarks. That’s a very different strategy than the one Perry adopted, which including sending out direct mail to and phoning delegates, and hosting a breakfast for all 3,500 delegates the morning of the straw poll.

Another advantage Cain had going in was his history of visits to the Sunshine State. He spoke at Americans for Prosperity rallies and Tea Party rallies last year, and has campaigned this year in the state. “So this wasn’t my first foray into Florida, and I think a lot of people who had seen me months ago still remember what I was about, and that has not changed,” he says.

The “simplicity” and the “specific” details behind his 9-9-9 plan (which would replace the current tax code with a 9 percent corporate income tax, a 9 percent personal income tax, and a 9 percent sales tax) has widespread appeal, Cain notes.

“People are coming up to me, saying that they like the 9-9-9 plan,” he shares. “Why? They can understand it. One of my guiding principles has been and always will be [that] when people understand it, they will support it and then they will demand that Congress pass it.”

Cain acknowledges that since he started his campaign in January he has twice thought of quitting, as first reported by Yahoo! News. But he won’t consider quitting again any time soon. Asked if there is any factor that could cause him to drop out before the Iowa caucuses, he responds, “Nope, not at this point. Not at all.”

“We’re in it for the long haul,” he emphasized. “This weekend basically solidified that fact.”

For his supporters, that is welcome news.

After Cain delivered his electrifying speech at the straw poll, a crowd of about 150 gathered outside his campaign bus for a chance to see him. It was a blisteringly hot Florida day — one man said it felt like it was “1,800 degrees” — but people waited, once breaking into a “NINE-NINE-NINE” chant. “We love you, Herman!” one supporter shouted. “We’re dying out here, but we love you!”

#page#When Cain came out, he wove through the crowd and then made a makeshift stage of a low concrete wall, standing on it to deliver impromptu remarks.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he told the crowd gathered. “We wouldn’t be here at this point today if it hadn’t been for you. The mainstream media: They still don’t get it.”

#ad#But his supporters do. “Thanks to you, I think we’re going to do all right,” Cain added.

“This is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. We don’t get discouraged,” Cain continued. “Amen!” shouted one supporter. “Never give up!” called out two more supporters.

Much of the rest of his speech was interrupted by back-and-forth interactions between him and the audience.

Cain mentioned that he had seen polls showing that his support was rising. “And let me tell you what happens with a Cain presidency that doesn’t happen with some of the others. Our supporters — you, you all don’t defect,” he told the crowd. (“We multiply!” one man shouted in response.) “You don’t get excited for the flavor of the week.”

“I can’t tell you how much not only I appreciate that, but also how encouraging it is,” he said of the sustained support. “Am I going to suddenly drop out?” (“Noooo!” chorused the crowd. “You’re going to pop up to the top!” a supporter bellowed. ) “The last time someone asked me that,” Cain continued, “my response was, ‘how do you spell quit?’ That’s not in my vocabulary.”

“You spell it ‘W-I-N,’” one person called out.

Cain chuckled. “I like that answer.”

After talking for a few minutes, Cain announced he would take photos with people and sign his autograph. But he was pressed for time, and he told people that it wouldn’t work if they came up to him in a “random fashion.” Instead, he instructed people to line up on his right if they wanted a signature and on his left if they wanted to take a photo with him. He joked that he had not intended to “part the seas” as the crowd split up into the two lines.

Cain quickly worked the lines, alternating between signing items (including a Tea Party flag) and posing for photos, and occasionally pausing to mop off the sweat that had accumulated on his head.

The bus crowd was just another sign of the massive enthusiasm among Republicans for Cain. But can he overcome the doubts that he isn’t viable in a general election?

Cain thinks so, saying in an interview that those who doubt his electability are “reading the tea leaves wrong.”

“They are saying that I can’t win a general election based upon what I call the traditional political model,” he says. “You’re going to have to throw out traditional politics because the political landscape is very different than it was before. Look at it this way: Ten years ago, we didn’t have the power of a citizens’ movement. It is very powerful today, and one of the messages that came out of Florida is just how strong it is.”

Another factor that’s changed in the past decade is the impact the internet can have. “The power of the internet has been my friend,” Cain mentions. “Social media has been my friend, and continues to be.”

“To be perfectly honest with you, my toughest challenge is winning the primary, not winning the general election,” he adds.

Cain acknowledges he’d consider being vice president if asked — and if he likes the GOP nominee.

“I’m open to it, depending upon who the nominee would be,” he says. He declines to name names, but says he would not be willing to share a ticket with every prospective GOP nominee.

But his supporters aren’t ready to settle for a Vice President Cain.

“The Herman Cain train, people!” a supporter by the bus shouted. “Next stop: the White House!”

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.

Katrina Trinko — Katrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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