Cain at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition earlier this month. (Charlie Neibergall/ AP)

Now that Tim Pawlenty has kinda-sorta-almost officially entered the 2012 presidential race, is this the end of Herman Cain’s time as GOP frontrunner?

For all the Republican hopefuls pondering a run, the 65-year-old pizza magnate had the field to himself for an entire two months, as the only candidate with a bona fide exploratory committee until Pawlenty announced his on Monday.

Cain is considered such a longshot that we vainly assumed he’d pick up the phone himself when we called. No dice: Cain, who won a straw poll of Tea Party activists in Phoenix last month, was on a flight to keynote a gathering of the Polk County Republicans Monday — one of at least a dozen trips he’s made to Iowa in the past eight months — and unavailable to chat.

“He’s going around and assessing the needs of the voters and donor support if he does decide to run,” his communications director Ellen Carmichael told us.

Yes, donor support: Despite making a nice fortune as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Cain (married 42 years, two kids, three grandkids) says his pockets aren’t deep enough for him to be one of those self-financed candidates. But he may remind you just a little of Ross Perot with his soundbite artistry. On Wisconsin union leaders: It’s not “about abolishing collective bargaining,” he opined in one of his frequent Fox appearances, “It’s about a collective disregard for the taxpayer.” On being an African-American Republican: “There are some people who will say, ‘I’m not going to vote for another black guy because this one didn’t work out,’” he told the Manchester, N.H., Union-Leader. “Well, what about those 43 white guys you put in there? How did they work out?’” (Maybe sometimes a little too glib: On Fox last week, Cain compared budget cuts to the cancer surgery he underwent on his colon and liver.)

Cain’s long odds have prompted some speculation that he’s just in it to raise his profile on the pundit circuit. Carmichael bristles at this, noting the candidate has “already written four books andhas spent two decades” as a motivational speaker.

“He could sit back and play golf three times a week — he doesn’t need to do that to elevate some social or corporate status,” she said. “It’s genuine concern for the direction of the country.”

Read earlier: The Fix: The case for Herman Cain, 3/1/2011

The Fix: The case against Herman Cain, 3/2/2011