NYTIMES: HERMAN CAIN GAINS MOMENTUM: KATE ZERNIKE
A G.O.P. Hopeful Gathers Momentum as More Voters Like What They Hear By KATE ZERNIKE
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Michele Bachmann was campaigning just north of here, the Sarah Palin tour was rumored to be arriving soon, and Mitt Romney was on his way to announce his entry into the presidential race.
Yet here was another voter swooning for Herman Cain.
“I watched you at the Republican debate, and I have to be honest, I’d never heard of you, but ever since that. …” said Nathan Lyons, 29, his voice trailing off wistfully. “You say it like it is.”
Joan Silvernail, 68, pumped Mr. Cain’s hand, then turned to her husband. “It’s his enthusiasm,” she said. “Wasn’t that what we felt with Ronald Reagan, his enthusiasm?”
Those not frequenting Tea Party rallies or the living rooms and coffee shops of New Hampshire and Iowa might dismiss Mr. Cain, a talk radio host and former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, as a frivolous candidate — “the pizza guy” as some call him.
But there are signs of what Mr. Cain, in his booming baritone, calls “Old Man Mo — Momentum!”
A Gallup poll released last week showed Mr. Cain with the highest voter intensity score of any Republican presidential contender — far higher than Ms. Palin, a former governor of Alaska, or Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts. While Mr. Cain’s name recognition was at 37 percent, it had risen 16 points since March.
Many pundits and voters declared him the winner of the first Republican debate last month. And he won the straw polls at the Tea Party Patriots convention in February and the Conservative Values Conference in Iowa in March.
If few people think Mr. Cain can win the nomination, he is satisfying voters’ desire to fall in love with a candidate. Their passion for him says as much about what the Republican field is lacking as it does about any specifics he is offering.
He captivates with his talk radio certainty, his pulpit cadences, and what he describes as his “common-sense business solutions” that make it sound as though solving the nation’s debt crisis is as simple as streamlining the number of pizza toppings on offer, as he did to improve performance at Godfather’s.
His rags-to-riches personal story and his talk of an “empowerment agenda” appeals to voters who believe that the federal budget has been corrupted by a culture of entitlement that no longer values sweat equity. As a black conservative, he appeals to Tea Party supporters who are angry at being tagged racists for their disagreements with the nation’s first black president. And in a country increasingly sour on Washington, his lack of political experience has become a calling card.
“Tea Party people love him,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. “He’s not a senator or a governor. He’s just a mister.”
Mr. Cain has built up loyalty in the early primary states simply by showing up earlier than other candidates — this visit to New Hampshire was his 13th.
Tom Keane, a school board member, state representative and selectman from Bow, said he had been asked to endorse Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, and had worked for Mr. Romney in the past. But he had turned out twice in one day to see Mr. Cain and, like many, spoke about him rapturously. Mr. Keane praised his background and his ability to think analytically.
“All this is pulling me toward him in a way I’m not pulled toward other candidates,” he said. “All good candidates, but I’m not pulled toward them.”
“You hear people talk about the other candidates as just suits,” Mr. Keane said. “You can’t say that about Herman Cain. I want somebody who’s going to energize the party. A suit won’t do that.”
Mr. Cain, 65, grew up poor in Georgia, his father working three jobs to finally buy a house for his family. Mr. Cain worked his way through Morehouse College and earned a master’s degree at Purdue University before becoming a vice president at Pillsbury.
Advised by the president of the company that he had to take a different route if he wanted to be a president of a company himself, Mr. Cain quit and entered the Burger King training program, where potential executives are trained from the grill up, working as “Whopper floppers” and cleaning bathrooms. Soon he was in charge of his region, and within a couple of years Pillsbury asked him to help turn around the Godfather’s chain, which he eventually joined in buying.
He became a folk hero among Republicans in 1994, when he challenged President Bill Clinton on his health care legislation during a televised town-hall-style meeting: “If I’m forced to do this, what will I tell all those people whose jobs I’m forced to eliminate?”
He ran for the Senate in Georgia in 2004, coming in second in the Republican primary ahead of a more seasoned politician, and parlayed his success into a career as a talk radio host.
Karl Rove and other Republican notables have dismissed Mr. Cain as little more than a good personal narrative. Mr. Cain dismisses them.
“They don’t get it,” he said. “There is a big disconnect between the quote unquote establishment and regular folks. The people on the ground get it.”
The center of his platform is the so-called fair tax, a 23 percent consumption tax that would replace the federal income tax.
He has been accused of offering only skim details on foreign policy; during the debate last month, he could not say what his plan was for Afghanistan, and in a recent television appearance he looked uncharacteristically uncertain when asked about “the right of return.” He says now that had the interviewer said “the Palestinian right of return,” he would have understood. And on Afghanistan, he says he would come up with a plan once he could read the intelligence reports available to a president.
“I never made a Whopper before,” he said, “but I learned.”
Mr. Cain is a salesman campaigner; he asks everyone’s name — even a woman who directs him to the bathroom — and then refers back to them as he answers questions. He seems to be having a very good time, tossing his head back as he laughs, which is frequently, a deep rumble rising to a pitched giggle. At a lunch with restaurateurs, he sipped Chardonnay and casually deconstructed a lobster B.L.T.
He recalled his chief of staff telling him as he walked out to the debate last month: “Herman, you don’t have to be perfect. Just be Herman.”
“That’s what I think connects with people, Herman being Herman,” he said. “And you notice, Herman enjoys life — I can smile, I can have a sense of humor, I’m being Herman.”
He does not shy away from the role that race plays in his campaign. In a new campaign video, he throws his arms around a group of white people and declares, “To all those people who say the Tea Party is a racist organization: Eat your words.”
Liberals, he said, “are scared to death of me. They don’t want me to go up against their beloved Obama. I have done stuff, fixed stuff, can explain stuff and run stuff. He’s been a community organizer, he’s got failed policies. He reads from the teleprompter, I don’t. I’ve got common-sense solutions, he passes 2,700-page legislation. The contrast would be so obvious, and when you get past all of the quantitative stuff, they can’t use race to cover for him.”
Mr. Cain predicts he will finish in the top three or better in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. More and more voters seem to agree.
At a lunch in Concord, Kevin Attar, a small-business owner, listened to Mr. Cain’s pitch, then said: “I think this country is ready for someone with your platform. How do we get more people to know who you are?”
Mr. Cain urged him to spread the word.
He excused himself from the table, telling his guests he had someone to greet upstairs.
There, Ms. Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota, was doing a radio interview. Mr. Cain put his arm around her and smiled for the assembled cameras. “She can run, that’s great,” he boomed. “The more the merrier. She’s a great friend. I have a lot of respect for her.”
Ms. Bachmann, finally allowed a word in, joked, “That’s why he supports me.”
“Did you all get what you need for pictures?” Mr. Cain asked. “Here, let me give you one more.”
He put his arm around Ms. Bachmann again, leaned far forward and smiled bigger than anyone in the room.
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