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Will Cain endorse Gingrich?

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With Herman Cain out of the race for the GOP nomination, pundits and politicos are turning their attention to which of his former competitors the plain-spoken former pizza executive might endorse.

Speculation is focused on Newt Gingrich, who like Cain hails from Georgia and who was the most effusive of all the Republican hopefuls in praising Cain after the announcement Saturday that he was suspending his campaign.

Never mind that back in May, Cain was dismissive of Gingrich, referring to him in an interview as a candidate whose “time has come and gone.”

Eric S. Swist

AP

Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, left, and Newt Gingrich, right, are introduced before the start of a debate held Nov. 5 in The Woodlands, Texas. )

A Cain aide on Sunday described Gingrich and Cain as “good friends,” dating back to Gingrich’s days as speaker of the House and Cain’s time at the helm of the National Restaurant Association. The aide said an “endorsement announcement is coming soon,” but also declined to say precisely when — or to discuss whether it really is Gingrich that Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, might back.

A Gingrich spokesman said no endorsement from Cain is expected Monday — despite a report by an Atlanta television station Sunday night saying that one was forthcoming.

It was Rick Perry who first dreamed up a Gingrich-Cain pairing, at a September debate in Tampa. Asked who his ideal VP pick would be, Perry said: Herman Cain “mated up” with Newt Gingrich.

Cain--who spent a month in a defensive crouch battling allegations of sexual misconduct, and concerns about his foreign policy chops-- is no longer on anyone’s short­ list as a VP candidate. But he continues to be valued within GOP circles for his outside-the-box thinking on tax reform. Given the current shape of the race, with Gingrich surging in Iowa and elsewhere, a Gingrich endorsement seems the most likely course for Cain.

Gingrich said Saturday that Cain’s infamous 9-9-9 plan “got our country talking about the critical issue of how to reform our tax code.”

“He elevated the dialogue of the Republican presidential primary in the process,” Gingrich said in a statement. “I am proud to know Herman Cain and consider him a friend. . .He will continue to be a powerful voice in the conservative movement for years to come.”

But would an endorsement from Cain matter?

An NBC News-Marist poll shows that Cain backers in Iowa, where his support had dwindled to 9 percent, will likely scatter among the remainder of the field, boosting Gingrich only marginally.

“If his campaign was a Bible verse it would be, ‘you have been weighed, measured, and found wanting,’ ” said Steve Deace, a conservative Iowan radio show host, who said that a focus group of undecided evangelicals used words like “shallow” and “incompetent” to describe Cain.

In some ways, a Cain endorsement, might only highlight the personal problems in Gingrich’s background that already trouble many religious conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere.

“Some evangelicals think Newt is brilliant,” Deace said. “But they aren’t ready to trust him. They aren’t ready to forget all of the baggage yet.”

Yet, as Gingrich tries to expand the Republican base to Latinos and African-Americans, the backing of a prominent black conservative could help.

Staff writers Amy Gardner and Jason Horowitz contributed to this report.

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