I’m shocked. I woke up one day and saw that the man famous for being a former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and repeatedly saying “nine-nine-nine” has made it to the top of the Republican presidential candidate heap. I’m still unsure how this happened, but according to the latest Des Moines Register poll, Herman Cain is leading the GOP’s least favorite but longtime front-running candidate Mitt Romney. Cain, at 23 percent, beats Romney by one percentage point in the poll released last weekend.
While most folks will rightly point out that polls this early in the race (a full year before the general election) simply do not matter, I still believe it is worthwhile to recognize how much the race has changed.
Tim Pawlenty, who courted many affluent Iowans immediately after leaving the Minnesota governor’s office, dropped out of the race early with a lot of money to pay back, later endorsing Romney to little fanfare. Minnesota’s own Michele Bachmann is getting little media attention and, in the same poll released by the Register last weekend, only attracted eight percent of respondents. Rick Perry is trying to renew his campaign after lackluster debate performances but is attracting even less voters than Bachmann. So, Cain enters the picture with his seemingly straightforward tax plan and likable sense of humor (Did anyone understand the internet ad featuring his chief of staff smoking?).
Herman Cain does his best to portray himself as an outsider— a businessman, not a Washington politician. I suppose he expects voters to forget his most recent occupation as an Americans for Prosperity lobbyist—not exactly a job for a Washington outsider, if you ask me. What’s more, in a recent focus group when respondents were asked whether they could see Cain in the Oval Office, not one person raised their hand. For now, much of Cain’s support appears to be anti-Romney sentiment.
This will continue to be a very expensive race, one that requires the full party backing of a candidate. Will Republicans be able to galvanize their base to support Mitt Romney? At this point, the answer appears to be no. But as we get closer to November 2012, I believe we will be seeing a shift in the GOP. Romney will be either a uniter or a divider. And if the latter occurs, this could be the most important election year to date for a third party.
Matt Hansen, a fourth-year student, writes The People’s Republic of Matt, a politics column in Opinions. He double majors in political science and sociology at Concordia. On Twitter: @MattHansen