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Cain campaign: Live by the media, die by the media

at 04:15 PM ET, 11/17/2011

For a while, it seemed like businessman Herman Cain had figured out how to succeed in early primary and caucus states without really trying.

Since the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO catapulted to the front of the Republican presidential field on the strength of his performance in the Sept. 23 Florida debate (and a surprising win a a Florida straw poll), Cain has spent just 12 days — either partially or completely — in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida combined. Yes, combined.

If you cut out debates set in those early-voting states, that number goes down to 9; if you cut out book signings — Cain is promoting his book entitled “This is Herman Cain!” — it goes down to a meager 7 visits.

Until the last few weeks, Cain’s lack of attention to the early states hadn’t hurt his rapid rise — thanks to lots (and lots) of generally positive media coverage.

But, now Cain is falling in polls everywhere — including Iowa — thanks to a decidedly negative turn in the media coverage of his campaign and the fact that he has little early-state organization on which to fall back.

“He’s a media candidate and it’s difficult to see how a media candidate succeeds when that media starts turning sour,” said Daron Shaw, a professor at the University of Texas who analyzes the impact of campaign appearances.


MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain greets people during a campaign visit to Miami. (Joe Raedle - GETTY IMAGES)

Many lesser-known candidates rely on debates and earned media to get attention. But, unlike Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann or former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum who have regularly visited places like Iowa, Cain’s only outlet for reaching early-state voters is via the media.

Tim Albrecht, a longtime Iowa Republican strategist and the communications director for Gov. Terry Branstad (R), argued that Cain might have curbed his bad national press if he had invested more time in the state.

“Had he put in the time needed here, Iowans would have gotten to know him and could make a determination as to whether they felt there was any merit” to the allegations, Albrecht said. “Because Herman Cain has not taken the time to get to know Iowans, they are left only with the filter of of the media to make their determinations.”

When Cain’s not in Iowa or New Hampshire, where is he?

A detailed examination of Cain’s schedule from late September until now suggests a haphazard schedule without any seeming strategy driving it.

Asked what he was doing in Wisconsin on Monday, for example, Cain explained that some of his staffers were from the state and wanted to tailgate at a Packers-Vikings game. "My chief of staff and my assistant, they wanted to go to a football game, and I said yes!" Cain told reporters. Um, ok.

Cain is stepping up his appearances in early states this week with stops in Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida. But, with polling showing that his moment may be passing, it looks to be too little, too late.

 
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