Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and conservative talk radio host, formally announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination May 21 in Atlanta, Georgia. Some people think he has a real shot at becoming the GOP candidate and bringing about the unfathomable: both major party presidential tickets being led by black men.
Perceived front runner Mitt Romney and other hopefuls — Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich — seem to lack the “it” factor, that one quality needed to capture the national imagination while inspiring the conservative base. Cain, however, has become the darling of the Tea Party movement over the last few months as he routinely touts his aversion to taxes and his belief that the overly complicated tax code should be abolished in favor of a national sales tax.
While Cain may be new to those black voters who rarely watch the happenings within the GOP, he is no political campaign novice, having run for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia in 2004. Cain lost that race but gained some fans along the way, including the late Jack Kemp, Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996. Kemp described Cain as having “the voice of Othello, the looks of a football player, the English of Oxfordian quality and the courage of a lion.”
More recently, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart suggested a Republican ticket featuring Cain and freshman Representative Allen West, R-Florida, who also has drawn rave reviews at Tea Party gatherings over the past year for his strong brand of fiscal conservatism. Breitbart averred, “The mainstream media’s done such a job of trying to frame the Tea Party as racist … if you go to the Deep South where I’ve gone and mention an Allen West-Herman Cain ticket or Herman Cain-Allen West ticket they erupt in absolute enthusiasm.”
Breitbart’s point about perceived racism gives rise to the logical question as to whether Cain will be able to handle the racism that does occasionally appear from Republicans like former GOP Chairman Haley Barbour. Barbour claimed earlier this year that he has no memories of violence at the behest of the White Citizens Councils in Mississippi that served as the public face of the Klux Klux Klan during the Jim Crow era.
In a race in which the extreme left will gripe but ultimately vote for President Barack Obama, and the extreme right will support whoever the Republicans nominate, if the nominee proves to be Cain, the question that remains is will the segment of black Democrats and independent voters that no longer favor Barack Obama support Cain?
Cain’s best chance to siphon black votes from Obama will be to avoid making it personal or about being black and stick to domestic issues such as unemployment, lack of high quality health care and high incarceration rates.
If he does that, the 2012 election could prove closer than the experts think.