Cain, who brought to the race no obvious constituency to back him, has benefited as other conservative favorites took turns in the spotlight and then fell away, bowing out — or flaming out. But he also has used a series of televised debates to raise his profile and establish himself as a powerful communicator with a simple plan to restart the economy.
“My message of common-sense solutions is resonating with people,” Cain said in an interview. “People around the country are starting to know who I am and starting to identify me with solutions, not rhetoric.”
Cain said he had long expected to gain momentum, but he did not foresee the recent “explosion” of interest in his campaign. Last month, he overwhelmingly won a Florida GOP straw poll, and in a recent Washington Post poll he tied with Texas Gov. Rick Perry for second place, with 16 percent.
But it is not at all clear that Cain can maintain his momentum or support a successful presidential campaign.
He has committed some early missteps, saying he would not appoint a Muslim to his Cabinet and stumbling on questions about the Middle East and the war in Afghanistan. He has since said he is aggressively studying up on foreign policy and that he meant to say he would not appoint a “jihadist” to his Cabinet.
Cain has not released his fundraising figures for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, but he raised about $2.5 million in the previous quarter, much less than most of his rivals for the nomination. And until very recently, Cain had drawn very little scrutiny from the media or criticism from his opponents.
He has had staff shakeups in Iowa, where workers had complained that Cain was not taking the campaign seriously, and in New Hampshire. He has been conspicuously absent — since August — from Iowa, an important state for a social conservative such as Cain to win.
“I think he’s at this point not a viable candidate in Iowa,” said Steve Deace, a conservative talk show host who is influential in conservative circles in the state. “The race appears to be about raising his profile and not running for president. He’s not surrounded himself with the best people and he’s not serious about running for president.”
Cain, 65, has reinforced that belief by spending much of his time this week promoting his new autobiography, “This Is Herman Cain!”
Asked about the skepticism, Cain chuckled. “All I can say is they are dead wrong,” he said. “And they don’t know Herman Cain. Anybody that knows me knows I would not do something like this to self-promote.”