Herman Cain Wins Support as an Anti-Washington Alternative

Dismissed by the establishment, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO has seen his stock rise in the 2012 Republican primary

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THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- Sixty-year-old Susan Tubbs last week waited in line behind 200 people at a Barnes and Noble store, and when it was finally her turn, she held out her copy of This is Herman Cain and meekly voiced a desire to give the author a hug. In spite of his handler's insistence otherwise, presidential candidate Herman Cain halted the swift-moving line, slipped around the barricading booth, and hugged her.

"Sometimes I break the rules," Cain boomed with a toothy grin, pausing to allow a friend of Tubbs photograph the moment.

Indeed, Cain's candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination has broken the rules. When the former Godfather's Pizza executive formed a presidential exploratory committee in January, pundits immediately deemed him unelectable. He had never been elected to public office, his campaign lacked basic organizational infrastructure, and he was virtually unknown outside of business circles. But lately, Cain's long-shot campaign has afforded him many hugs, even more photo ops, and the satisfaction of proving the pundits wrong.

Quite a few Republicans, it seems, were yearning for a hug from a candidate, not with a long resume in government, but without the sort of Washington experience that they see at the root of the country's problems.

"Look at what just happened!" Tubbs gushed after her Cain embrace. "This guy's a real person. He's not a politician, and that's very important to me. But he's got the economic experience, and he says it like it is."

Establishment Republicans, who initially dismissed Cain's candidacy as a pipe dream, were jolted to attention last month, when Cain trounced Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the Florida GOP straw poll, 37 percent to 15 percent. In the last two weeks, he has placed either second or tied front-runner Mitt Romney in national polls, and he has attracted up to 1,000 people at this book-signings.

In a political climate driven largely by the tea party movement that once propelled Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to the front of the pack, Cain's arrival in the top tier shouldn't be shocking.

Last week, a Gallup poll showed that a record-high 81 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed. Florida straw poll participant Bonnie Benefield, of Gainesville, said she had just cast her vote for Cain for the same reason critics originally laughed him off.

"I think he's exactly who the founding fathers had in mind when they set up the office of the president," Benefield said. "He's a businessman; he's not a career politician. He understands what it's like to grow up in the U.S., and he understands what it's like to do business in America."

It's a line Cain himself uses to his advantage. In an interview with National Journal and CBS News last week, he said that he is "the only business problem-solver that's running for president of the United States.

"Now Mitt Romney tries to say that that's him," Cain said. "But see, he was a Wall Street executive. I was a Main Street executive. I've actually made pizzas, made hamburgers, cleaned restaurants, swept the parking lot, OK? I've done all that. I have been a hands-on business executive throughout my career, so I can better connect with people who are working for hourly wages. I can relate to the small businessman. Why? I have been one, and I'm still one."

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Lindsey Boerma is a staff reporter (politics and policy) for National Journal.

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