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Cain to Debate Newt: What Is Herman Thinking?

Polls show Herman Cain as the frontrunner, and things are going his way. Now, he has agreed to a “modified Lincoln-Douglas”-style debate with Newt Gingrich, where Cain has little to gain and a lot to lose.

On November 5, Gingrich and Cain will go mano-a-mano in a debate about entitlement reform, with no moderator and only a timekeeper from the Texas Tea Party Patriots. “It will be divided into parts, one for each major entitlement — Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid — with each candidate detailing their arguments,” says Bill O’Sullivan, the treasurer of the group. Obviously, the candidates will find ways to bring up other issues if they believe it to be advantageous.

Gingrich’s campaign says it will be respectful, and he will contrast his proposals with Cain “in a friendly way.” There will probably not be any heated, interruption-filled confrontations as happened between Romney, Perry, and Santorum during the last debate.

This debate is a blessing from Cain upon Gingrich. Whereas Cain has frontrunner status, Gingrich is in third place. He is steep in debt and unable to purchase the advertising he needs to be considered a top-tier candidate. The media still isn’t giving him much attention. He’s done well in the debates, but is restrained by the presence of seven other candidates on the stage. Gingrich needs to take away from Cain’s support, or he has no chance of winning. Now, he gets  to take on Cain — and only Cain — in the forum that best suits Gingrich.

What does Cain have to gain? It is possible he could best Gingrich and take some of his support, but this is an unnecessary gamble. Cain could simply wait as the right-of-Romney vote coalesces around him and Gingrich’s campaign suffocates. Cain is in a strong position to become the sole alternative to Romney, and if he does he probably wins the nomination.

An important fact that is being overlooked: Cain was hammered in the last debate, yet his support hasn’t dropped at all.

This separates him from Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, whose candidacies quickly fell after being piled on in the debates. As a matter of fact, Cain has a slight lead nationally in the RealClearPolitics poll average. His campaign says he is now raising $1 million per week. At the same time, Rick Perry intends to use his large war chest for a “total destroy mission” against Romney, in the words of someone familiar with his campaign’s plans. This will take negative attention away from Cain, and brings to mind the mutually caused destruction of the Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt campaigns in 2004.

The Iowa caucus comes on January 3. Cain has a 5.5% lead in the RealClearPolitics average. Should he win, there will be a media firestorm, and in all probability Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann will drop out. Rick Perry’s campaign will be injured, probably fatally. All of their support goes to Cain.

Mitt Romney will win New Hampshire (likely on January 10). This eliminates Jon Huntsman, whose miniscule number of supporters he will take.

South Carolina comes on January 21. Here, RCP’s average has him with a 5.7% lead today. Gingrich’s campaign depends upon winning this state, and if Cain wins Iowa, it’ll be hard to see how he overcomes Cain’s momentum. He and Perry are gone if Cain wins. At this point, Cain has rallied the anti-Romney vote behind his candidacy, and he is the favorite to win the nomination.

Cain now has two options. He can move forward with the debate and plan on criticizing Gingrich, such as by mentioning his support for the individual mandate. He’ll have to be extra careful not to make a gaffe worth reporting, as no broadcast networks currently plan to cover it. He can hope that not many people will see Gingrich at his best. Or, he can find an excuse to drop out. It’ll be obvious he realized he made a mistake, but if his supporters stuck with him through the last debate, they’ll stick with him through that decision.

Herman Cain’s campaign is in a position that very few people, especially in the media, ever thought it would approach. Debating Gingrich one-on-one is a gamble he doesn’t need to make.

Also see: Dem Wit: GOP Likes Cain Because ‘He’s a Black Man Who Knows His Place'” 

And check out: Is Karen Finney Secretly Working for Herman Cain?