Prior to the last week’s Florida straw poll, pundits readily acknowledged the contest for the Republican nomination as a two-horse race between political thoroughbreds Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. However, Herman Cain’s surprising triumph in Orlando suggests the finish line is still far from sight. Admittedly, the straw poll is just a non-binding vote to gage popularity, but the margin of victory and the bearing of the geographical location cannot be easily overlooked.
The former Godfather’s pizzaCEOdelivered a decisive and shocking blow to his fellow nominees, earning a higher share of the vote than Perry and Romney combined, and seemingly seized a seat at the GOP’s top table. To compound the win, Florida is the largest of the swing states and site of the unforgettable recount of 2000 which awarded George W. Bush the White House. If it remains true that the road to the presidency runs through Florida, then Cain’s strong base of support in the sunshine state will only further his presidential credentials, and bolster his chances of gaining the Republican nomination.
Most American analysts, however, were quick to dismiss Cain’s chances of winning the nomination. They pointed to the fact that Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann declined to participate in last week’s straw poll, and fellow Republicans were equally eager to rain on Cain’s prospective parade. The colourful Sarah Palin, she of the will-she, won’t-she campaign, patronisingly congratulated “Herb” on his win and acknowledged he was, at least for now, the “flavour of the week”.
Unfortunately for Romney, Bachmann, Palin and the rest of the GOP presidential hopefuls, Cain’s campaign appears to be gaining both momentum and credibility, with Thursday’s Fox News poll indicating a substantial swing in the candidates’ fortunes. With Texas Governor Rick Perry crashing down to earth, Cain has grasped the impetus of his straw poll success and garnered the attention of weary Republican Party voters. The pragmatic businessman now stands just two points behind Perry and six points off former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, forcing political commentators to swallow their premature ponitfications and finally consider Cain as a plausible and electable presidential candidate.
In fact, the shock of Cain’s meteoric rise is only eclipsed by Bachmann’s dramatic fall from grace. Once the darling of the party, the Minnesota Congresswoman gained only 3% of the vote in Thursday’s poll and suddenly finds herself keeping company with stable bottom-dwellers Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. Thus, the assertion that Cain’s straw poll victory was somehow nullified by Bachmann’s non-participation is quite absurd. So too is the suggestion that Cain’s lack of political experience renders him unelectable.
One of the major knocks against Herman Cain is that he has never held elected office. Whilst it is true that Cain’s failed attempt to win the GOP Senate nomination in Georgia in 2004 does raise some question marks, and could arguably end up costing the businessman a few votes, he proudly wears his lack of political experience as a badge of honour. Cain, his campaigners attest, has yet to be morally compromised, and his political naivety could endear him to an American public tired of professional politicians. Ready to embrace someone who can deliver real economic results, they demand a CEO, rather than simply another Commander-in-Chief. Herman Cain, who once turned around the flagging Godfather’s Pizza in a mere 14 months, knows how to create jobs and hopes to be the economic saviour America is searching for.
Inevitably, the race for the Republican presidential nomination may whittle down to the potential entry of three political heavyweights. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has long been on the verge of running for president, whilst the ever-popular Rudolph Giuliani, the two-term New York Mayor who admirably guided the city through its darkest days in the wake of 9/11, is always a threat to enter the contest. Chris Christie, the straight-talking Governor of New Jersey, is reportedly being urged to run by several high profile conservatives, from Henry Kissinger to George W. Bush, who hope the political fledgling can take advantage of the suddenly unsettled field.
Can Herman Cain actually win the GOP nomination? If the aforementioned trio try their luck, his odds significantly dwindle, but should the race continue to as a brutal battle between Perry and Romney, Cain could capitalise as an increasingly attractive and plausible alternative. It’s a long shot, as the self-proclaimed “dark horse” would likely admit, but Cain’s recent straw poll triumph and subsequent polling has suddenly made his candidacy more viable, forcing the two frontrunners to break from their grapple and pay attention.