He is the latest Tea Party favorite to burst through in the increasingly heated race for the Republican presidential nomination and see their poll numbers rocket them to frontrunner status.
However, unlike previous rightwing darlings such as Texas governor Rick Perry and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, wealthy businessman Herman Cain, 65, can claim to be cut from a very different sort of cloth from the average Republican candidate.
First, he is not actually a politician. Cain, whose CV includes being a radio show host, a navy ballistics expert, a Baptist minister and a Federal Reserve official, has never held elected office in his life. His most famous job was as chief executive of the fast-food firm Godfather’s Pizza.
Yet none of that seemed to matter to the cheering crowds at the Values Voter Summit in a Washington DC hotel late last week. There was much to celebrate. A Zogby opinion poll had just boosted Cain into first place in the race, with 38% of the vote, compared with 18% for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Perry trailed in third place with 12%. The study even showed Cain beating President Barack Obama in a match-up by 46% to 44%.
Cain’s strong debate performances have propelled him forward in the polls at the same time as he has hit the TV networks. He won the Florida straw poll and suddenly pundits are taking him seriously. They are even raising the prospect of 2012 being a fight for the White House between two black candidates. “Cain versus Obama in 2012 – It’s Not Just a Fantasy,” blared the headline on a Fox News story written by black columnist Juan Williams.