The first time I heard Herman Cain refer to himself as “the dark-horse candidate,” I knew that man had the kind of character and wisdom which smart people look for when picking a leader. Cain has risen so far above the superficiality of racialist, skin-color thinking that he makes those who pander to it or run from it look like a bunch of kindergarteners hurling spitballs.
Yes, until this weekend, Herman Cain was a dark-horse candidate, given very little chance of winning the nomination by everyone who is anyone.
Well, that was then and this is now. Not even Herman Cain can call himself a dark-horse candidate after Florida’s Presidency 5 vote, where Herman pulled in the winning 37% of Republican Party activists to Perry’s dismal 15% and Romney’s even worse 14%.
Oh sure, many prognosticators and pundits will be quick on the draw to downplay the significance of another “straw poll,” like the one Michele Bachmann won in Iowa only to see her popularity melt faster than a popsicle in a Texas desert on an August afternoon. But Florida’s Presidency 5 contest is a very different animal than Iowa’s straw poll and has far, far more significance.
For one thing, the Presidency 5 isn’t run like Iowa’s straw poll. In Florida, the state party leaders take their swing-state significance and their 29 large-share electoral votes very seriously. Not just anyone who shows up at Presidency 5 gets to vote in the election (and they call it an “election,” not a “straw poll”).
In Ames, Iowa, candidates buy lots of tickets, hand them out to their supporters, many who were bused in just for the event, and everyone there gets to vote. In Iowa, there is much giving of free food and music, a lot of wining and dining with beer and corndogs, and in this regard it’s much more like a caucus than an actual election. But in the Presidency 5 election, only GOP delegates to the Florida convention get to vote. Every person casting a vote in Florida’s poll has been active in party politics and earned their spot, which makes Florida’s pre-election poll much more significant than Iowa’s — not to mention Florida’s crucial 29 electoral votes to Iowa’s meager 6.
Can anyone win the presidency now without Florida? It’s pretty darned hard, especially since Republicans have to give up California from the get-go in the post-Reagan era. With the whole northeast still in the stranglehold of liberal delusions, the southern states — especially Texas and Florida — have become absolutely essential for any Republican candidate.
No matter how the pundits slice, dice, or try to puree Cain’s phenomenal victory this weekend in Florida, this shakes up the presidential race in much the same way that the Tea Party has been doing since the spring of 2009. Cain’s win might not signal an earthquake yet, but it helps him in some very significant ways.
For one thing, the Florida Republican Party delegates have sent a very loud message to the high-rolling insiders in D.C. The conservative party base has grown very weary of its step-child status among the GOP establishment and are signaling that they might not just go along to get along this time around.
Secondly, Cain’s biggest problem to date in getting real electoral momentum has been his near-bottom-of-the-candidate-barrel backing by inside-the-beltway types. Nate Silver, the rising star among political prognosticators, wrote two columns in May on why more political insiders ought to be taking Herman Cain seriously. Silver, as he explains somewhat, tends to use a more bottom-up paradigm when perusing polling data. While Silver knows that party establishment people figure prominently in pushing certain candidates over others, he also takes into account the bottom line lever-pulling power, which is always in the actual hands of the actual voters. And in Silver’s analysis, Herman Cain is proving to be an exceptional candidate with a lot more going for him in the minds of the voters than in the calculations of the party insiders and the MSM elites.
Florida delegates just amply demonstrated Silver’s point. Herman Cain was on the ground in Orlando by Friday morning, just after a sterling debate performance in Tampa the night before. Cain, the nomination underdog, worked hard Friday and Saturday, speaking extemporaneously to small groups of delegates — groups that reportedly grew larger and larger as the weekend progressed. And Cain was evidently winning voters over one at a time the way candidates used to do it — in person. They call it “retail politics.”
Retail politics is one of Rick Perry’s greatest strengths, too. But Perry was apparently resting on his polling laurels, choosing to fly out of Orlando instead of sticking around to engage with the Presidency 5 delegates. Not smart.
Rick Perry was leading in Florida polling by 9 points going into Thursday’s Tampa debate.Perry did so badly in that debate and Cain did so extraordinarily well that much of Perry’s support weakened in the aftermath. Florida’s delegates were ripe for the picking and Cain saw his opportunity to set the Texas brush afire with 9-9-9 common sense. People can call Cain’s win in Florida anything they wish but at the very least, it demonstrates his keen political instincts without ever having won a single election.
Cain still has the greatest line in the history of politics on that so-called weakness. When asked about his lack of political office holding experience in the first Republican debate, Cain got his characteristic fox look, gave a sly smile, raised his fatherly eyebrows and bellowed: Everyone running the government now has held elected office before. How’s that working out for you?
If there’s one thing Americans admire more than straight-shooting rhetoric, it’s an underdog with a genuine winning spirit. Herman Cain isn’t sitting on the bench warming his backside from the glow of his own press and hedging his debate responses with focus-group-approved lines. And because he’s fighting hard, believes in himself, and is willing to go head to head in selling himself to voters, he is moving on up and out of the pack at the back.
Floridian delegates got over their “not electable” reticence and took a chance with Cain. Cain says this is what you call “momentum,” and he’s turned around failing businesses enough to know momentum by its scent.
If Herman Cain smells electoral momentum coming off his Florida win, I’m inclined to take him very seriously.
Whoever said the next Ronald Reagan had to be a governor?