Herman Cain is running a pretty strong presidential campaign, depending on whom you ask. The press covers him intensely: In early November, Cain was the “dominant” newsmaker in a whopping 72 percent of all campaign news stories, (according to a Pew report). Cain’s rivals now see him as a threat, attacking him regularly. And Republican voters are following these cues, at least in theory, telling pollsters that they support him. But what about Herman Cain?
A review of his recent activities, commonly referred to as a presidential campaign, suggest four big reasons why he is not really running for president at all.
The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus is crucial for every presidential campaign. Since 1980, the Republican who won the caucus usually went on to win the nomination. Iowa is especially critical for underdog and cash-strapped campaigns, because the caucus system relies on grassroots organizing, enabling candidates with time for retail politicking to beat better-funded rivals. So underdogs usually seize on the state. That’s why Rick Santorum has held 198 events in Iowa this year, leading the current field. It’s why during this time in 2007, long-shot candidates like Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama were camped out in the state. (They both went on to win Iowa.)
Herman Cain, however, can be found just about anywhere but Iowa.
During the current homestretch, he is on a twenty-eight-day break from the state. His campaign says he will return on November 19—but not to meet with precinct captains or do voter turnout. Cain was lured by the prospect of yet another debate, a “Thanksgiving Family Forum” moderated by celebrity pollster Frank Luntz. All told, Cain has spent only thirty-four days in Iowa, which trails Bachmann, Gingrich and Santorum.
2. Everywhere else
Is it possible that Cain is neglecting Iowa, yet building a firewall in other key states?
Not really. Time magazine recently surveyed Republican officials in key primary states and found that Cain’s actual campaign presence, compared to his rivals, was “infinitesimal.” “There is almost no organization to speak of,” said former New Hampshire GOP chair Fergus Cullen, adding that local Republicans would not know “whom to call” to schedule Cain in the Granite State.
Beyond the missing field program, which every campaign needs to morph theoretical public support into actual voter turnout, another operative told Time that Cain’s South Carolina operation doesn’t even have a political staff to return calls from US senators:
“We see nothing to resemble a real campaign,” says another GOP operative, who is based in South Carolina and knows of only one Cain staffer there. [B]oth of South Carolina’s U.S. Senators and one member of its House delegation sought assistance with reaching out to Cain, but the strategist said he’s been unable to get the campaign to respond.
Either Herman Cain is running the first major presidential campaign without a field program or political department, or he’s not running a presidential campaign at all.
3. “The World’s Most Expensive Book Tour”
Many candidates use a political autobiography to sell their candidacy. Cain has inverted that strategy, however, using the mechanics of a presidential campaign to sell his new book.
Cain prioritizes stops on his commercial book tour over time in primary states, which led the Washington Post to dub his campaign “the World’s Most Expensive Book Tour.” Before recent allegations of sexual harassment, Cain anchored a slew of media appearances to plugging the autobiography. His campaign even plowed $36,000 into purchasing copies of the book, This is Herman Cain, along with his earlier tome, They Think You’re Stupid. In fact, the campaign bought the books directly from Cain’s company, T.H.E. New Voice. The initials refer to “The Hermanator Experience,” a phrase that Cain trademarked seventeen years ago to encapsulate his inspirational speech program. Yes, they do think you’re stupid.
4. “I have not raised my prices”
Even after earning a place atop the GOP field, Cain has not cut back on earning money, despite the demands of a busy book tour/presidential campaign. Put aside the book-buyback program, (since FEC rules prohibit such sales from enriching a candidate), and Cain has still found time for a second job this year. Cain may not be great at campaign fundraising, but he sure knows personal fundraising.
“I’m still doing paid speeches,” Cain told Bloomberg Businessweek last month. He estimates that he's made a quarter of million dollars from talks this year. In a telling caveat, Cain stressed that he has not jacked up his rates even though, thanks to recent events, he thinks that he could.
“I have not raised my prices,” Cain said, adding, “I’m not gonna take advantage of my newfound popularity just to put more dollars in my pocket.”
Everyone knows it takes chutzpah to run for president, but as Herman Cain is proving, it also takes chutzpah to pretend to run for president.