If the world is indeed about to end, Herman Cain will make sure we go out with a bang. Today, he's formally entering the presidential race. Cain doesn't lead in the polls and he doesn't have a ton of name recognition, but he's clearly enjoying the process of running for president more than anyone else. He's working harder at it, too. By my count, Cain has made 17 trips to Iowa alone. I'm up in New Hampshire with a large contingent of the national press corps covering Jon Huntsman's first trip here. Cain doesn't draw anywhere near that kind of coverage, but he has made enough of an impression in visits here (and in appearances on Fox News), that I've twice heard him being discussed by the crowd at Huntsman events.
A number of commentators have dismissed Cain outright, the latest being conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer on Fox News. But Cain has outperformed expectations at early party events, and with popular social conservative candidates like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin (so far) staying out of the race, his prospects would seem to be brightening, rather than dimming, especially in places like Iowa.
It will be interesting to see whether Cain's becoming an official candidate vaults him into a more prominent position in the field--and if it does, how he'll handle to the added scrutiny that is likely to come his way. In the meantime, if you haven't familiarized yourself with Cain, you should do so. He's a character. I wrote a short profile of him in the March Atlantic that tried to give a sense of what he's like and what impact he might have. Here's an excerpt:
If you don't attend Tea Party rallies or listen to political talk radio, the name Herman Cain may not register. Cain intends to rectify that. He's planning to seek the GOP nomination, so he's spreading his blustery, relentlessly upbeat right-wing social and economic message, which can be heard weeknights from 7 to 10 on WSB in Atlanta. Cain is so exuberantly confident of his message that he has upgraded its status: he bestows upon audiences not speeches or talking points but "The Hermanator Experience." He's even trademarked the phrase.
Truth be told, what distinguishes Cain's message is less its content--"From the standpoint of our conservative beliefs and values, Sarah Palin and I are probably identical," he told me--than the person supplying it. Cain is a 65-year-old retired African American pizza-company CEO who sits on several corporate boards, including Whirlpool's, and entered politics only as a late-life hobby. But he's serious about running for president. To a bland field, he'd add charisma, a compelling story, and some craziness.