GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s win in the Iowa straw poll is more disturbing proof that his candidacy may not be the flash in the pan that many think. Cain added to his string of straw poll wins by barely nudging out presumptive GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney in the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll.
Carefully watched by political observers, the poll has measured the GOP and Democratic caucus candidate preferences of Iowa voters since the 1980s and has proven credible. It was the only poll to show that then Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama had a substantial lead over party rivals Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.
But the far more intriguing thing about Cain’s candidacy is the consistency of the poll numbers. He has been either at the top or near the top as a favorite among GOP voters for weeks. He has not been the proverbial flash in the pan that recent GOP presidential candidates have been. That is, the candidates burst on the scene, announce their candidacy with much fanfare, get a blast of media attention, create a momentary public buzz and then fade quickly into the sunset.
That pattern has been plainly evident in the candidacies of Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry. They announced their candidacies with much fanfare, got a quick surge, and then when they make the inevitable gaffes, inanities and goofball pronouncements, set against the intense glare of the media, they fade faster than the sun in an Arctic night.
But Cain hasn’t. The reasons go beyond just the media and GOP voter fascination with the novelty of an African American conservative tossing out pithy and in some cases, outrageously quotable sound bites. Cain is politically serviceable in several ways. He is the runaway pick of GOP ultra conservatives and Tea Party leaders and followers. This appears to refute the knock that they are nothing more than a pack of unreconstructed bigots that can’t stomach the thought of a black man in the White House.
He is an outsider. The maverick, politically unconnected, noble citizen politician always grabs media and public fascination. It’s even more appealing at a time when much of the public loathes and abhors most politicians, and regards Congress somewhere between a used car salesman and a dentist. Cain has played hard on that loathing and disgust and never tires of reminding that he is not a politician, has held no office and will manage government as if it was a corporation, and bring good business sense, management and efficiency to solve all problems.
The notion of the man on the white horse riding into Washington, turning government on its head and chasing the army of corporate and fat cat lobbyists, flaks and deal makers packing from the political temple in mad flight played well in 2008 with the Obama candidacy. It worked, and Cain took obvious note. Cain’s adroit stoke of the basest of social conservative rage on immigration, abortion, religion, gun ownership and federal government has aroused their passions to a fever pitch.
Cain’s added value is that he’s the most effective among the pack of GOP presidential contenders in posing as the ABR (that’s anybody but Romney) alternative. The Iowa poll reconfirmed that Romney has what’s charitably called “serious vulnerabilities” meaning that ultra conservatives don’t like him and what they perceive he represents.
These are the voters that are the most likely to vote in the official Iowa GOP Caucus in January and they say that they are three times more likely to back Cain over Romney. As a side note, with Perry fumbling and bumbling on the campaign trail and with his ultra-conservative credentials slightly frayed or at best suspect, Cain even has value as the anti-Perry Christian conservative surrogate.
GOP mainstream leaders, hard-nosed GOP political operatives and the big gun financial donors have so far treated the Cain candidacy as a fun and games, amusing sideshow act that will fade into the dust when it comes time for the serious voting. That may well prove to be the case. Cain certainly has shown very little interest in doing the hard politicking in the key early make-or-break primary states, has raised a relative bare pittance of campaign monies and has no national organization to speak of.
But at this stage of the political game, that’s less important than revving up a disjointed, disgruntled and dismayed GOP party faithful. Cain is the right guy for that. And that alone guarantees him a lot more shelf life than people think or want to believe he has.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.