Herman Cain proving to be real contender
‘Longshot candidate’ now in third place in recent Iowa poll.

By Bill Torpy

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Herman Cain slipped away from the tour group and into an office to talk with a worker. After hearing a 45-second synopsis of the woman’s duties at the computer software company, he clasped his hands and enthusiastically announced an “aha” moment.
“This is what people in Washington, D.C., don’t do enough of: get out and talk to real people solving real problems,” he said before moving on to another work station for another dose of real people wisdom.

While the backdrop was a quintessential campaign stop in this early primary state — he visited a complex housing small, start-up businesses to announce his tax cut-based economic vision — Cain is not a typical candidate.

Six months ago, the popular after-dinner speaker and Atlanta radio talk show host announced he was venturing into the national spotlight with a run for the presidency. The declaration mostly drew shrugs in political circles.

Now, with a little more than six months to go before the Iowa caucuses, Cain has managed to garner a third-place finish among Republicans, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, in the Des Moines Register’s first poll. And that unexpected accomplishment has some of those same doubters paying a bit more attention.

More than 20 visits to Iowa in the past year have built Cain a passionate following, although “longshot candidate” still often precedes his name. Cain says he prefers the term “dark horse,” the black Republican’s eyes lighting up with mischievous glee at the political incorrectness.

It’s that kind of humor that has turned the former executive with an uproarious laugh and a plain-speaking, Southern style into a grass-roots sensation in the Republican field.

He recently signed a book deal and last weekend won a straw poll at a Cobb County GOP barbecue, getting more than triple the votes of his nearest rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who once represented that county. A Gallup poll released Friday found that 48 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents know who Cain is, a 27 percentage-point jump in name recognition from late March. That’s the biggest improvement among Republican hopefuls.

Cain’s niche as the anti-candidate candidate (he has run for office just once, losing in the 2004 Georgia Republican primary for the U.S. Senate) has served him well in a year when being an outsider is cool.
3rd in Iowa....and a HUGE jump in name recognition from just 4 months ago....