What in the world is Herman Cain up to? Forget about the 9-9-9 plan for a moment. Is he trying to win the Republican presidential nomination?

So far it seems that he is doing everything but parlay his newfound fame into progress on the ground in the early primary states. Politico reports: “He hasn’t actually done much campaigning in the early states that play a critical role in determining the Republican Party nominee. A Politico analysis of candidate schedules reveals that Cain has logged less time in the kickoff states and held far fewer town halls and small-town meet-and-greets than any of his competitors. In a nomination fight in which the first four states to vote hold a position of exaggerated importance, Cain has taken a different route — a haphazard approach that regularly takes him to places far from the primary and caucus action.”

On Friday a Cain spokesman told me that in the upcoming week the businessman would be in Arizona, Michigan and Nevada. Well, one of those is an early state, and the other two are early-ish. However, Cain likely won’t be in contention in Nevada or any of the states that follow if he doesn’t win or come pretty close in either Iowa or New Hampshire. Indeed, if Mitt Romney wins both states, the race could be effectively over.

But what about Iowa? Cain hasn’t been there in 64 days and has no announced plans to visit. The consensus among Iowa operatives and pols is near uniform: If the caucuses were held tomorrow, Cain would lose. The lack of organization and personal contact with the voters would be fatal. As one GOP veteran explained to me, you have to cull out your supporters in 1,784 precincts, tell them where to go, coach them on how to caucus and then make sure they show up. Cain has done none of that. Republicans in Iowa tell me that at this stage Cain’s campaign simply isn’t capable of doing that nitty-gritty work.

But what about those national polls and even a few Iowa ones? Frankly, they don’t mean all that much. As we’ve seen, the national polls fluctuate wildly. Moreover, telling a pollster you like Cain is a far different thing than getting a few of your neighbors out on a cold night in Cedar Bluff, Iowa, to sit through caucus meetings and sway your fellow citizens.

The Cain campaign has frequently said that it is running a 50-state campaign. That’s well and good, but you don’t get to 46 of them unless you win or do well in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Cain’s strategy smacks of Rudy Giuliani’s preposterous tack in 2008. He, too, was beguiled by national polls. He too didn’t think he had to compete hard in Iowa and New Hampshire. It was a disaster.

Now, it’s possible the Cain people simply don’t know what they are doing. There’s no one in sight with presidential campaign experience. Or, it may be that he is doing this to sell books and raise his speaking fees. Well, that might well have been the goal going in. But if he is now serious about winning the nomination, he should get a first-class staff, come up with a reasonable calendar to maximize his chances of winning in early states and start pulling in campaign cash. He’ll need plenty of money when his opponents go on the air in early states and start pummeling him.