And Cain’s organization is so thin in key early states that one New Hampshire strategist said that when activists have asked where to learn more about the candidate, there was no one in the state to refer them to.
In a year when Republican voters are willing to give candidates a chance regardless of money, experience or campaign muscle, Cain more than anyone is testing how far a presidential campaign can go with very little of any of those things. He has rocketed to the top of polls with a gift for oratory, a brimming confidence on the debate stage and a conservative orthodoxy that has stirred the passions of a growing slice of the Republican base. But his tiny organization is barely keeping up with the onslaught that has come since he was anointed a top-tier candidate.
Cain is trying to do something about this. He boosted his field staff this month to 35 spanning more than a half-dozen early states. He concedes that even more will be necessary to compete in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first two nominating contests will take place in less than three months. He is focused on building his name recognition, a particular weakness for the former Godfather’s Pizza executive, who was known by less than 20 percent of the electorate just a few months ago.
Message, not money
He also revels in his small operation. Making a virtue out of necessity, Cain scoffed at the resources that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have invested in Florida — where Cain’s win of a Republican straw poll a few weeks ago launched his ascent in the polls.
“Message is more important than money,” Cain boomed to reporters gathered at the New Hampshire state capitol last week. “Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney spent a lot of money trying to influence the outcome of that straw poll. We rented a bus and drove around the state delivering a message of common-sense solutions. And it worked. And you’re going to see that same bus right here in New Hampshire.”
He said Saturday that his modest fundraising numbers for the third quarter — $2.8 million — do not reflect the outpouring of support he has received in the past two weeks.
“Money isn’t what’s driving my momentum; my message is driving my momentum,” Cain said during his Tennessee swing.
If his campaign bears few of the features traditionally used to measure the success of a presidential operation, it remains unclear how much those conventional strengths matter in this volatile election cycle.
By those measures, Romney, with his organization, money, campaign experience and 160-page economic plan, should have sealed the nomination weeks ago. The fact that he hasn’t — and that Republican voters have careened from one alternative to the next, from Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) to Perry and, this month, to Cain — illustrates a central tension of the 2012 nomination.