The Iowa Caucuses are tailor made for obscure and mostly unknown candidates. As the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the last presidential caucus cycle, there were months where it seemed like all I did was answer questions that these candidates had about the caucus process in Iowa. While Herman Cain might not be a household name in Iowa, make no mistake, he’s not the 2010 version of John Cox, Dr. Mark Klein, Cap Fendig, or Hugh Cort either.
Unlike every other major Republican presidential candidate that will emerge to run in 2012, Herman Cain has never held elected office. Instead, he comes to the race from the outside, as a former business executive, radio personality, and newspaper columnist.
Herman Cain makes TheIowaRepublican.com’s top ten because he belongs there, not because it was necessary to find another presidential candidate to get the list to ten names. If this was just about getting to ten names, Ambassador and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would have made the list.
Herman Cain belongs in the Iowa discussion because he is a natural fit with the tea party movement that has taken root in Iowa. Unlike other tea party movements across the county, in Iowa, the tea party is also very socially conservative.
Cain has also been proving that he’s not afraid to put in the time and effort to become known in communities all across Iowa. Cain has already headlined tea party events in the state and has been meeting with influential Iowa Republicans since the end of the 2010 elections. From all accounts, Cain is making a good first impression.
Even though it’s hard to see a scenario where Cain wins the Iowa caucuses, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see him making a impact in them. Candidates with no prior elected experience have done well in the Iowa caucuses. Pat Robertson (1988), Pat Buchanan (1996), and Steve Forbes (2000) each took home second place finishes in the caucuses. In fact, in 2000, 53 percent of the caucus vote went to candidates that had never held elected office (Forbes, Alan Keyes, and Gary Bauer).
Cain’s strategy will need to be different than Forbes’, who spent millions of his own money in 2000. Cain’s 2012 campaign will probably look more like what Alan Keyes’ campaign looked like in 1999 and 2000. Keyes, who garnered 14 percent of the vote in the 2000 caucuses and thus finished third, began traveling the state in early 1999. I still remember traveling to Iowa City in a snowstorm to see Keyes speak at an event in at the old Highlander hotel along Interstate 80.
I was shocked when I walked in and saw that more than 200 people turned out to listen to Keyes that night. After listening to Keyes speak, I began to understand what so many people were attracted to. Like Keyes, Herman Cain has been gifted with great oratory skills, but his business background makes him far more formidable than Keyes, who was essentially a one-issue candidate.
Cain’s outsider persona is also going to appeal to those who are seeking a candidate who has remained politically pure. In the last general election, nearly 21,000 Iowans voted for a third party gubernatorial candidate who ran on a conservative platform. If Cain can convince those people to back his presidential campaign in the caucuses, Cain is going to turn a lot of heads a year from now.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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