The once and future Cain. (David Goldman/AP)

Then Herman Cain arrives — he’s introduced as “Mr. 9-9-9” — and the crowd goes wild.

Make no mistake. Staying power in the race and star wattage are two different things. The two may be inversely related, in fact. The only way Rick Santorum’s arrival would light up a room would be if Mitt Romney were the only person in that room when he got there.

But Herman Cain, he of the suspended campaign, showed up at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Thursday, after a lackluster speech by Rick Santorum, to deliver an endorsement — and the crowd was instantly on its feet, yelling “Amen!” and “Woohoo!” and breaking into his speech with applause.

The endorsement, he warned, would make the media upset, because it was “unconventional.”

He endorsed — “The People.” Then he urged them to visit his Web site —, which sounds like the worst dating site of all time.

Say what you will about Herman Cain, he knows how to get people excited. This is a quality the rest of the field does not possess. (“I read a book on it once,” Mitt Romney says, helpfully.)

But Herman Cain shows up in his colorful bus with 9-9-9 on the side, and it’s like the crowd doubled in size and consumed lots of energy drinks. They’re eating it up. They’re on their feet. They’re hooting and hollering and carrying on.

“AMERICA IS BROKE!” Cain proclaims, beginning to rattle off a series of facts.

At this point my notes become illegible, because I started typing, “I LOVE HERMAN CAIN COME BACK TO THE RACE HERMAN YOU CHARISMATIC DOG YOU” over and over again. I have no idea of the contents of his speech, but when I woke up I had eight copies of “This Is Herman Cain” and a regrettable 9-9-9 tattoo on my lower back.

He has this effect on everyone.

Later he took questions from the media, who missed him nearly as much as the crowd had.

We’d forgotten it could be this much fun.

Any advice for Newt Gingrich for dealing with angry ex-wives?

“That is an irrelevant question, and the American people will learn absolutely nothing if I stand here and try to answer that irrelevant question.”

Endorse just one candidate? Cain didn’t want to, because “I want all my people and my supporters to remain inspired. I want all voters to remain inspired.”

Why wasn’t he still running? “Here’s why: real simple. I chose to put family first, folks.”

Are you concerned at all that people might think this is some sort of stunt or joke?

“The media might think that. The media is not gonna like it because it’s not traditional.”

He’s wrong. We’ll love it.

Why Charleston, SC? “I was available. I was available! Plus, they got a debate tonight. . .I was available.”

Somehow the Republican voters have pulled off the alarming feat of eliminating the exciting and charismatic contestants to result in a drab stage full of demographically similar men and Ron Paul.

If this were a reality television series, the producers would be tearing out their hair trying to find a way to reintroduce the audience favorite right now.

“Do you have even a modicum of charisma?” the voters seemed to ask. “If so, please, leave the race.”

Watching Herman Cain speak reminded us of what we were missing. Forget the Trust Deficit. There’s an excitement deficit. Now Cain’s here, he says, to counteract the lack of enthusiasm.

The logic of this may be lacking. This is somewhat like the beautiful cheerleader you flirted with in high school showing up to urge you to rekindle the passion in your marriage.

But hey, anything to hear from Herman Cain.