I've spent a lot of time in this space talking about polls lately and today I'm going to continue that theme. In the past week we've had yet another sparsely watched GOP debate, a slew of new polls, a few high ranking endorsements, and much more news about the Boston Red Sox than we ever need to know! For you Sox fans, you know what I mean.
The Republican Debate Tuesday at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire was interesting if only for the format itself. The 'perceived' eight genuine candidates were seated around a conference table facing three moderators asking questions. The group was led by Charlie Rose, who did a good job overall. The questions centered on the economy and economic policy, which really played to Mitt Romney's strength. It also led to lots of opportunities for Herman Cain to say 'nine-nine-nine.' So many, in fact, that he is now leading the GOP field in several national polls. Huh? Whazzat, you say? Exactly.
Who is Herman Cain? Where did he come from? Are his polling numbers for real? Slow down, Betsy, we'll get there. For now I'll just say 'Who knows, Who cares, and Nope.' The question everyone ought to be asking is not who is he or where did he come from but why is he doing so well in the polls? The answer to that one, dear reader, is actually pretty easy. I'll get there soon enough as well.
First off, who is Herman Cain? Nearly everybody knows he is the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza (a truly awful pizza, in my humble opinion). Less well known is that he served in various capacities on the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in the early 1990's. He's also a Baptist minister and has run for the GOP nomination for senator from Georgia (lost in the primaries). By all accounts he has been remarkably successful in both the private and public sectors.
Where did he come from? Proverbially speaking, out of the blue! He's been a candidate longer than anyone in the field except Mitt Romney, who's been running since 2007 pretty much non-stop. Cain announced his exploratory committee in January 2011...beating now President Barack Obama's 2007 announcement by more than a month. He officially entered the race in May and struggled to make headway until the Florida GOP debates, after which time he took off in the polls.
So, are his numbers for real? I don't think so. That's not to say he can't win a few states and give some members of the GOP establishment heartburn (and present southern conservatives with an interesting choice between an African-American conservative and a Mormon pseudo-conservative). Just as Mike Huckabee did in 2008 when he won the Iowa Caucuses, so, too, could Cain. But that would likely be the end of his amazing rise. One thing is for sure though, win or lose, Cain will come out of this race better off than he went in.
On to the main question...why has Cain suddenly taken off in the polls? The quick and dirty answer is that 'he ain't Mitt Romney.' The conservative base, led by the demagoguery of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, despises Mitt Romney, largely because he represents a wing of the Republican Party they've been trying to kill off for more than a decade. Romney is a centrist, pragmatic, northeastern moderate with a center-right philosophy of governing. He is, in other words, a part of the GOP establishment. He's not a fanatical 'true believer' in rolling back the New Deal, shrinking government so it 'can be drowned in the bathtub', as Grover Norquist has intoned. Mitt Romney understands that doing those things would bring America to her knees and make all of us worse off, not better. And that's why Cain has risen so rapidly. The previous GOP savior and true believer, Texas Governor Rick Perry, turned out to be all too human. Gasp! He...compromised? He cared about the children of illegal immigrants and whether they would become productive members of the Texas economy? Heaven forbid! He tried to do something that might save thousands of women from dying of cancer needlessly? Off with his head, they cried!
Before the rise of Herman Cain it was Michelle Bachmann, winner of the Iowa Straw Poll. Darling of the right wing media and the Tea Party. An empty suit with an empty head who confused where Lexington and Concord are (MA, not NH) and where the Revolutionary War began, failed to distinguish between the birthplace of notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy and American screen legend John Wayne. A woman who claimed to have adopted 23 children...until someone discovered that she actually was a foster care provider (a good thing, IMHO) and that some of the children were only in her care for a month. Her fall from grace was as precipitous as Governor Perry's and may be unrivaled by anything in history other than Lucifer's fall from heaven.
The others in the field have never really been able to gain any traction but I wouldn't be surprised if between now and the Iowa Caucuses on January 3rd to see another of the candidates rise spectacularly to the top. If I had to bet on one of them, it would be Newt Gingrich. But it would be a bet I would not be too confident about. I also think Ron Paul could make a daring move to the top before imploding. Make no mistake, the rise of Herman Cain has everything to do with anti-Romney sentiment and nothing to do with Herman Cain. Just as it did with Perry and Bachmann before him, the tide will turn, and Cain, too, will not be able to knock Mitt Romney off his perch. And that is just as it ought to be.