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April 21st, 2011

On the Trail: Herman Cain in Cedar Rapids

By Kevin Hall

Today, launches our new “On the Trail” series.  Throughout the run-up to the 2012 Iowa Caucus, we attend candidate tour stops throughout the state and offer you a glimpse of what the event is like.  We will look at the candidates and their message, as well as how the campaign manages each meeting.  Check back often as we go “On the Trail” with the 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls.

Herman Cain’s presidential exploratory committee scheduled a 1:30 pm tour stop for Tuesday, April 19th, at the Ar-Jay Center in Cedar Rapids.  It seemed to be an odd location for a campaign speech.  Usually, these types of events are held in coffee shops, meeting rooms or community centers.  This was the first one I have ever been to inside a furniture store.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the lack of signs on the windows or doors indicating Herman Cain would be there.  Things got worse upon entering the store.  There was no one from the Cain campaign greeting people.  He does not have an Iowa staff yet, but plenty of volunteers are on board.  Yet, no one was directing people where to go.

This resulted in a bunch of confused people, including national and local media, standing in the middle of the furniture store waiting for the event to start.  There was nowhere to sit and no one seemed to have any idea exactly where in the building the meeting would take place.  If anyone did know, they didn’t bother to share that information with the rest of us.

Around 1:30, Herman Cain entered the store and immediately began shaking hands and chatting with people.  He held babies and posed for pictures with several attendees.  Cain was very approachable for everyone in attendance, which is not the case with all presidential candidates.

After a couple of minutes, Cain asked, “Where’s Joni?”  He was referring to candidate volunteer extraordinaire Joni Scotter.  She is one of the most enthusiastic conservative activists in the state and is being courted by several presidential campaigns.  A few minutes later, Scotter arrived.  She and Cain greeted each other very warmly.

As the former Godfathers CEO continued to mingle with the crowd, I began to wonder if this event would just consist of people standing around the furniture store, chatting individually with Cain.  Finally, a store manager said that he had set up 50 chairs upstairs for the meeting.  A few more minutes passed before the crowd finally headed there.

The backdrop actually worked perfectly.  It was the model of a kitchen.  “Kitchen table issues”, i.e. the economy, is the number one topic on the minds of a lot of voters.  The crowd size was around 30, so several of the seats remained unfilled. This was another error on the part those assisting Cain.  Empty seats are no-no.  Set up the room for less than what you believe will need.  You can always bring more chairs out later if you need them.

A sign-up sheet was circulated amongst the attendees and literature was placed on the countertop behind Cain.  They should have been available immediately when people arrived, but better late than never.  Campaigns should always get contact information from the people who attend their events, so I was glad to see the sign-up sheet passed around.

Once Cain began addressing the crowd, it became clear that the campaign has a lot of work to do to catch up with its candidate.  Herman Cain is a dynamic speaker and storyteller.  He opened his dialogue by telling the crowd, “I don’t have a standard stump speech.  That’s what politicians do.”  Indeed.  I have seen Herman Cain speak at least a half dozen times and every speech differs from the previous ones.

Two minutes into the speech, Cain broke out the first of many one-liners that won the crowd over.  “In Washington, D.C., the motto is ‘If it ain’t broke, break it’.”  Eight minutes later, Cain returned to his anti-politician rhetoric.  “I am the only problem-solving candidate running,” he said.  “The rest of them are politicians.”

Cain covered a lot of different topics.  He mixed detailed policy stances with humor, personal stories and stinging criticisms of President Obama.  Following his speech, Cain took several questions from the audience.  He spent several minutes discussing his survival of Stage IV cancer.  Cain focused heavily on how faith helped him become cancer-free, when doctors gave him only a 30 percent chance of survival.  “God said ‘Not yet Herman, I’ve got some more work for you to do.’”

Other questions touched on Libya, gas prices, and who his potential vice-presidential pick would be.  I have never seen a presidential candidate answer this question by actually revealing names.  Herman Cain is not your typical candidate.  He named, not necessarily in order, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Jim Demint and Senator Tom Coburn.

Cain delivered more bluntness in regards to energy and rising gas prices.  “Let me tell you a little secret.  This green energy stuff is a joke,” he said.  He added that the United States has plenty of resources to become energy independent, but the Obama administration refuses to use them.

Following the speech, Cain spent more time chatting individually with attendees and conducting a handful of media interviews.  The reaction I heard from two prominent Linn County Republicans was very positive, but they were not ready to back Cain yet.  He will return to Cedar Rapids next month to headline a County GOP Central Committee fundraiser.


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About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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