Over the course of the past two years as I made my way around the state speaking to and meeting members of various tea party and grassroots conservative groups, one name kept coming up: Herman Cain. This was long before Cain threw his name into the Presidential mix. Some activists told me: You need to learn more about Herman Cain.
My first thought was, “Who is Herman Cain?”
That’s when I was told he was a black conservative radio host out of Atlanta. My next thought: “There’s no way someone is going to go from being a conservative radio host to being President.” While I assumed these folks probably heard a lot of great ideas from perhaps a great orator, I kindly ignored the hype.
Then, this March I was invited to attend the American for Prosperity’s Florida Summit held in Tallahassee during the 2011 legislative session. Among their many speakers that evening, the keynote speech was by Herman Cain.
As I sat and listened to this man speak – without a teleprompter or even any notes at all – I was simply in awe. He spoke conservative truths without hesitation. He also had bold ideas and he went right for President Obama’s weaknesses, stripping apart Obama’s policies one by one and having his own solutions to put Americans back to work. My jaw dropped and my heart raced. “Oh my God,” I thought. “This man can beat Barack Obama!”
I also looked around and there was a buzz in the room. A few of these folks had heard Cain before, but most had not. Pumped full of enthusiasm, I eagerly went over to meet Mr. Cain at the conclusion of the dinner. As I shook his hand and introduced myself, I told him, “Mr. Cain, this is the first time I’ve ever heard you speak. I don’t know if we can get you through the primary. But if we can, you’re going to beat the pants off Obama.”
Cain’s joyful response to me: “That’s what I’m saying!”
I got a picture with Mr. Cain and then left full of energy. As I drove home, my enthusiasm waned as my idealistic temperament hit reality: “There’s no way he’ll even come close to winning the primary,” I thought. After all, he had really low name ID and had never been elected to any political office before. While some might argue that’s a plus, I just didn’t see it happening.
Over the course of the summer I still hoped Jeb Bush would get in the race. Yes, another idealistic thought, but I thought (and still do think) he would be the best conservative option to beat Barack Obama. I also hoped Texas Governor Rick Perry would get in. Once he did, I was really disappointed with his debate performances and even with some of his policy views. To me, he has a great resume, but failed the interview. Hey, being President isn’t for everyone – even a successful Texas governor.
At that point, I didn’t know who to support. I am continually unimpressed with Mitt Romney – and it seems I learn about a new “flip flop” every week. To me, he’s the Charlie Crist of the GOP Presidential primary. I really like Rick Santorum on the issues, but didn’t see him as electable.
At the end of the summer, I was selected to be a delegate to the Florida Presidency 5 straw poll that took place on September 24. A week before the straw poll I decided that I was going to vote for the candidate I most believed in – whether or not they had a shot. After all, this was just a straw poll, not an actual election. For me, it came down to deciding between Herman Cain or Rick Santorum.
Then, the unthinkable happen. I had an opportunity to have a private lunch with Herman Cain and less than 10 other people.
While in Tampa, just days before the Presidency 5 and CPAC events that were going to be held in Orlando, I was invited by my friend Debbie Cox-Roush to attend a Herman Cain meet and greet. At the time, Debbie was the Chair of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee – the largest and best organized one in the state – and for good reason: it’s the swing area of the swing state. While she’s known Cain for years, she was undecided. My hunch tells me she liked Romney, Santorum, and Cain, not necessarily in that order. I was speaking to Debbie’s club that night on behalf of the organization I work for. So, she invited me to the Cain meet and greet earlier in the day.
Once I was there, she then invited me to join a small group of her top activists and donors who were going to have lunch in a small cafe downstairs with Herman Cain. Then, she sat me right next to Cain during the entire one hour lunch.
I had already read the details of Cain’s new “9-9-9” plan and asked him some questions about it. “Mr. Cain,” I said, “I’ve read about your 9-9-9 plan. Let me ask you something: did you basically take the fair tax and the flat tax and combine them?”
He looked over at me and smiled: “You’re on to me.”
Then he talked about how that’s exactly what he did. He said he has been a Fair Tax guy for quite some time but that the education of the Fair Tax among the American people had not taken hold and the Fair Tax movement wasn’t persuasive enough yet. He also recognized many folks, including Steve Forbes, that were in the flat tax camp. So he believed his 9-9-9 plan was not just a bold policy solution, but a political solution as well – bringing together these diametrically opposed “tax reform” camps. In the process, he said, you’ll not only lower taxes but you’ll spread out the burden of taxation and grow the economy.
Many of the people at the table seemed comfortable with this successful businessman’s ability to bring bold ideas to the table to grow the economy. That’s when our discussion turned to foreign policy. He didn’t hesitate. When it came to discussing the Middle East, Mr. Cain was up-to-date with the very foreign policy conundrum being debated that day: the Palestinians had come through the backdoor of the U.N. to try to get recognition of a Palestinian state. Mr. Cain said that as President he wouldn’t even talk to the Palestinians “because our nation has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists.”
That’s bold, I thought. He just called the Palestinians terrorists. Then, he told us why: the Palestinians democratically elected Hamas, a terrorist group, to lead their government. Until they get rid of a terrorist organization leading their government, there is no need to even negotiate with them. Now, that’s clarity.
He also spoke about how he would deal with various foreign threats: Libya came up. He was opposed to Obama’s policies of getting into Libya mostly, he said, because we had no clarity on what we were doing there and who we would support replacing the current regime if it was overthrown.He reiterated the theme of clarity on foreign policy and how he would not ever apologize for America. I liked it.
We had a great meal. At the end of the lunch, his campaign director, Mark Block, who was sitting at the end of the table leaned over and showed Cain something on his blackberry. Cain announced to the table: In 16 of the last 17 weeks I have won the “likeability” poll. This poll didn’t determine who was winning the primary. Rather it just specified that once you know who the candidate is, do you like him or her? He was polling far ahead of the pack – and after this private one hour lunch with him and a few other Republicans I could see why. The man is intelligent, can articulate conservative values, has a lifetime of success in creating jobs, and has a wonderful sense of humor.
At the end of the lunch I snapped a picture with Mr. Cain, had him sign a copy of his book which I had purchased a bit earlier in the day and then shook his hand one more time. It was at that moment that I told him I was a delegate in the Presidency 5 straw poll later in the week – “You’ve got my vote,” I said.
He smiled and pumped his fist in the air. At that moment – I don’t think he or I thought he had a chance of winning the straw poll, but perhaps we might get him into the top 3. I think that’s the best anyone could have hoped for.
Two days later I was sitting in the Fox News debate audience at the Orange County Convention Center with the 3,000 plus other delegates who came from all of Florida’s 67 counties to view the debate and vote in the straw poll.
The Florida straw poll is different from most others I’ve seen – candidates can’t really buy votes. Delegates are proportioned per county – by the number of registered Republicans in each county. And, almost all delegates are selected by a lottery – with a handful in each county selected by their executive board. I was lucky to be selected one of the delegates for Leon County.
At the debate on Thursday night, Cain shined and Perry floundered. That was pretty much the story – but mostly that Perry floundered. He was inarticulate and he had a horrible response on an immigration question. When he told other candidates (and voters) that we “didn’t have a heart” if we didn’t agree with his immigration policies in Texas, I felt the air go out of the room. It was at that point you could sense that many delegates who came prepared to likely vote for Perry started looking for someone else. And that was exactly the mood in the post-debate parties. And when people started looking for another candidate to support, Cain was it.
And give Cain credit. Over the next two days, he worked the crowd. He made himself available at meet and greet events, mesmerized the crowd at the CPAC event held on Friday and took the house down during his Presidency 5 speech on Saturday afternoon just before the vote.
Meanwhile, many of the other candidates didn’t stay the full 3 days. Perry bought everyone breakfast on Saturday morning, but didn’t win them over. Again, he fell flat.
When Cain spoke to the delegates on Saturday, I never experienced anything like that before. His speech had most of the delegates going wild. While almost all the candidates got ovations for hitting various issues, Cain got them out of their chairs and I could see Cain signs being waved around the room. I turned to one of my friends at one point and said: “Oh my God, I think Herman Cain might actually win this straw poll.” Here I was hoping that at best he would come in the top 3, but something was happening in Orlando – and it wasn’t the pixie dust.
Every candidate that has won Florida’s straw poll in the past has gone on to win the GOP nomination. Could Cain actually pull off this upset? Remember, at this time, the national media had us all believing this was primarily a Romney-Perry race. But then when Governor Rick Scott read the results of the poll, he announced to the world that Florida just upset the apple cart. Again.
Cain blew away the rest of the pack: 37% Cain, 15% Perry, 14% Romney, 11% Santorum, 10% Paul – with Huntsman and Bachmann barely registering. A shot heard around the conservative political world.
Then the naysayers came out from among the political establishment. They said this was “just a straw poll” and that it meant nothing. I called them out on it with my blog post, “The Establishment is in Shock.”
Well, the establishment was wrong. The straw poll signified something that has been happening across this country. Average Americans are fed up with Washington and the Ruling Class that perpetuates problems such as our growing national debt and floundering economy. Conservatives want to send a conservative to Washington – and if it takes a political outsider like Herman Cain, then that’s what we’re going to do.
Over the next few weeks, Herman Cain began to lead in every national poll. He even led in states like Iowa – and by double digits in South Carolina. Some Florida polls had him winning here too. And this, with still very low name ID, considering that candidates like Romney have been running for President for more than six years.
With Cain at the top of the polls, his 9-9-9 plan, foreign policy “inexperience,” and even some his views on the abortion issue started to be further scrutinized. He might have handled some of this scrutiny better, but let’s face it: he surged from the back of the pack to the top of the heap. His campaign was probably not prepared for that. But over those weeks, they began to regroup and get on message. And his lead in the polls continued.
But then, the unthinkable happened: a “hit piece” by Politico with unnamed sources suggested that Cain had sexually harassed women who worked for him at the National Restaurant Association (NRA). The Cain campaign immediately denied these claims, but did acknowledge that one harassment claim had been made against him while President of the NRA. However, as Cain’s campaign clearly articulated, the charges (made in 1997) were found to be baseless.
Once Cain started to put this controversy behind him, a week later, as if on cue, the infamous feminist attorney Gloria Allred appeared with yet another woman who actually put her face, name, and words to a new sexual harassment claim with disgusting language attached. Once again, the Cain campaign had to spend their time battling a woman who Cain claimed he never even knew or ever recalled meeting. Not only did this woman have a strange background (she filed for bankruptcy multiple times in her life and even alleged sexual harassment against other employers), this was the first time she was ever coming forward with these allegations to anyone – and she chose to do it with Gloria Allred?
This just did not make sense and I thought conservative columnist (and Romney supporter) Ann Coulter actually had the best response to this in her column, “David Axelrod’s Patern of Sexual Misbehavior.”
So Cain got distracted and you could tell this was taking a toll on him and his family and even some of his interviews. After all, he’s human. Here is a man who once sat in the back of the bus and drank from colored only water fountains as a kid in the segregated South. He built a successful career and did it alongside his wife who he has been married to for 43 years. He even battled two different forms of life-threatening cancer at the same time, just a few years ago. Now, as he inched closer to the Republican nomination for President, his entire reputation he had built over 65 years of his life has come under attack. He has now fallen behind from first to third – but remained in the top tier as Newt Gingrich surged ahead of him.
Once again, his campaign tried to move on. But just as the Cain Train was building a campaign apparatus in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida – including the announcement of chairs and co-chairs in all of Florida’s 67 counties (myself included) – another attack awaited him.
This time it was from someone he apparently knew. An Atlanta area woman came forward to announce she has had a 13-year extra-marital affair with Herman Cain. This time, Cain jumped ahead of the release of her televised interview and bolted onto CNN with Wolf Blitzer to flatly deny those allegations. He admits he knew her and tried to help her out of her financial trouble, but that he never had any kind of sexual affair with her.
Whether this allegation is true or not may not matter. Doubts have now been raised in the minds of voters – including supporters and potential supporters – about whether the Herman Cain we all think we know and loved – with that high “likeability” factor – is in fact the real Herman Cain.
If these allegations prove to be true, I will be the first one off the Herman Cain train. If a man lies to his wife – someone he has swore an oath to before God – he will certainly lie to his constituents and to voters and cannot be trusted. Of course, we all make mistakes, but that man would have to seek forgiveness from his wife and his God – but not necessarily get it from voters.
If these allegations are false – as I still believe them to be – then it represents a sad time in American politics. If all you have to do is “allege” that someone might have done something – which was never reported until they became the front runner of their party’s nomination for President – then what will stop people from continuing to hurl mud at decent men and women who put everything else in their life on hold to serve their country?
I am at a crossroads here – I don’t want either of the above scenarios to be proven. For if it’s true, the person I believed in and hoped for would turn out to be someone he is not – a farce. And that would be truly disappointing and disillusioning. He’s not just someone I saw on a stage or a television set, but have met and had discussions with. He’s someone a number of people I know have worked with for years in various capacities. He would have had to be living a lie to all these people (and to his wife) for all these years. And that would be troubling.
But if these allegations are false and they still derail the Cain Train – then that would be an equally sad moment in American political history. It would mean that the only thing you need to do to stop a political outsider who has bold solutions that will help millions of Americans across our country is to create a scenario that appears to be true – at least for a while – a scenario that raises enough doubts in a voter’s mind that this person cannot be trusted.
So, as a Cain supporter, what to do? My response: Until you can prove (or get him to admit) that he had extra marital affairs or treated women inappropriately in the work environment, then you should not jump off the Cain Train. It wouldn’t be fair to Herman Cain, his family, or to America.
Herman Cain represents a real political outsider – not just to the Washington establishment, and to his party, but also to his ethnic background. A successful black conservative that has challenged the status quo on so many levels – and has done it with the heart of a “happy warrior.”
It is with that same sentiment we must battle on behalf of Herman Cain and every American who wants to make this country a better place. The detractors and naysayers will always be there. We must smile politely at them – and then go to battle. They don’t like those of us who upset the apple cart. And, as can be seen, they will stop at no limits to keep the status quo in place and real Americans from ever dreaming that they can make a difference.