By Len Lazarick
Atlanta businessman Herman Cain has become the flavor of the month on a menu of Republican presidential candidates leaving partisans hungering for something different.
He’s tied for second place with Sarah Palin in a Iowa poll released Wednesday. In a Georgia poll out Friday, he beat former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich two to one. In a straw poll at the Maryland Young Republicans convention Saturday, Cain tied for first place with former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.
And Friday night, he got a hootin’ and hollerin’ reception at the Howard County Lincoln Day Dinner organized and attended by a number of local Tea Party activists who have latched onto Cain’s candidacy.
“The difference with this flavor of the month is that it’s gonna last,” Cain told MarylandReporter.com in an exclusive video interview. That’s because of “the enthusiasm of the voters and regular folks.”
“The mainstream media attempts to ordain the candidate” based on name identification, lots of money and having held public office, Cain said.
Noting his polling numbers despite the low regard he has received from GOP bigwigs like Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer, Cain said, “The political insiders have not accepted the fact that the American people are going to elect the next president of the United States, not the political establishment.”
There was loud applause Friday when he said, “I had never held public office before.” He said he gets that response across the country.
Cain said people respond to “my common sense solutions and my approach to problem solving.”
Cain, 65, grew up the child of working class parents in Georgia. He got degrees in mathematics and computer science, served in the Navy and worked his way up the corporate ladder in the Pillsbury Company, eventually becoming CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He has also been a radio talk show host, and a member of the Federal Reserve Board for Kansas City.
“I have lived the American dream,” Cain said.
On Friday, Cain spent most of his time introducing himself and his life story to the audience. He offered few of his solutions, but gave more of his analysis of the problems. (In response to questions in the video interview, he did talk about some of his plans for restructuring entitlement programs and the tax code.)
“We have become a nation of crises,” Cain said. There are crises in morality, economics, immigration, foreign affairs, leadership.
“We need to change America from an entitlement society to an empowerment society,” he said.
He said the tipping point in his decision to run for president was “when President Obama signed the health care deform legislation against the will of the American people.”
“It’s up to us to be the defending fathers,” Cain. “We’ve got to defend against this liberal onslaught.”
The American people “are ready to recapture the freedom and liberties that we appear to be losing, every day, every week and every month.”
“It’s so refreshing to hear a Republican candidate that can talk,” said Jerry Cave of Bethesda, owner of a communications firm and an unsuccessful state senate candidate. “The most conservative people in the Republican Party like him the best,” Cave said. As a conservative from one of the most liberal districts in the state, “I’m so sick and tired of being called a racist.”
Cain was introduced at the dinner by Louis Pope, one of Maryland’s three representatives on the Republican National Committee. He met Cain in 2004.
“I was very impressed with his ideas and his oratory,” Pope said. He noted that Cain was a cancer survivor, but “he didn’t let that slow him down.”
Del. Gail Bates, R-Howard, said, “Nothing sells you like your own success.”
“Running a business and running a country are very similar,” Bates said.
Chris Merdon of Ellicott City, a former Howard County Council member and candidate for executive, said, Cain has “a fantastic message and he energizes the base.”