Herman Cain may be Thursday night’s unlikeliest debater.

With almost no political experience, the conservative radio host and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza is the clear outsider of the 2012 Republican primaries. Over the past few months, huge numbers of supporters have flocked to his the candidate’s ramshackle campaign events , earning Cain the credibility to appear onstage in Iowa tonight.

Cain pitches himself as a businessman-candidate in the tea party mold, which means he sells his lack of political experience as a positive. (One of his stump speech one-liners: “I understand how Washington works! It doesn’t!”). With Congress’s approval ratings hitting record lows, Cain’s outsider status could help him in Iowa.

As a longshot candidate, Cain enters the debate with low expectations. He’s already succeeded simply by getting invited and having the chance to promote his unusual slate of issues, including replacing federal and state income taxes with a 23 percent national sales tax.

“To get on stage in front of several million people watching at home is a great chance for folks to see Mr. Cain and what he stands for and what his background is and what his vision is,” Cain spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But Cain must also live down his now-infamous comments that he would not be “comfortable” with a Muslim in his Cabinet. Cain stumbled when he was questioned about this comment at the June New Hampshire debate and replied that he had not answered the question of whether he would appoint a Muslim.

His answer in the New Hampshire debate was: “I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us. And so, when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one....”

Maybe people have forgotten about the issue and have moved on. Cain turned in a good debate performance in South Carolina in May, and perhaps we’ll see that candidate again in Iowa Thursday night.

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