Herman Cain, Fundraising Dynamo

The former Godfather's Pizza CEO had the makings of a flash in the pan -- but as a money magnet, he could have staying power in the 2012 race

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Herman Cain's campaign has turned a few degrees past full-circle.

When former Atlantic senior editor Joshua Green profiled him in March, Cain was nobody in 2012 terms, his name failing to conjure associations with the phrase "presidential candidate." After a few strong debate performances and the falling-off of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Cain rose to become the GOP's unlikely co-front-runner. With his sexual-harassment scandal, it seemed the former Godfather's Pizza CEO would return to the fringe, his chances at the White House nullified by Politico's scoop.

Cain has tried to surge past the allegations, and he's logged a sign of early success, raking in a ton of cash. In the week following Politico's initial story, Cain raised $2 million, nearly reaching the $2.8 million he raised from July through September. Without having listened to his fundraisers' pitches, and without knowing where all that money came from, it's safe to assume that the flood of sub-$5,000 campaign donations (the limit under federal law) means Cain has turned the scandal into a call-to-arms. The strategy adopted by Cain and his supporters, to the Perry campaign and the media, seems to have worked, inculcating GOP primary voters to see Cain as the victim here and isolating him from the scandal in the same way Sarah Palin's "lamestream media" critiques have inoculated her.

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In the face of his scandal, Cain has become a fundraising dynamo.

Money had been a problem for the former CEO, until his polling spike in October, and his relative lack of fundraising success probably led news outlets to dismiss him. (I'll admit to leaning, at times, on quarterly fundraising reports in assessing a candidate's viability; it's a conventional-wisdom tendency that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't). His third-quarter fundraising total of $2.8 million placed him at the back of the pack -- behind Perry ($17.2 million), Romney ($14.2 million), Ron Paul ($8.2 million), and Jon Huntsman ($4.5 million).

For Cain, another bit of conventional wisdom prevailed: Money follows polls. As Cain benefited from Perry's dull stage presence, and as he took the outright lead in some early-October polls, Cain managed to raise $2 million in the first two weeks of October, taking in over $3 million for the month.

It appears Cain has conquered the monetary disadvantages of the offbeat candidate. In 2007 and 2008, Mike Huckabee lacked the resources to keep up with John McCain, even after winning Iowa. Huckabee had raised about $7.7 million in the last six months of 2007, while McCain raised about $15.7 million. Winning Iowa helped Huckabee collect more donations to sustain him in the later states, where ground organization and heavy advertising can make the difference, but he hadn't built the war chest to last.

Polling and fundraising indicators have lagged behind Cain's scandal, which developed over the course of several days last week -- as Politico published its scoop, Cain's campaign blamed Perry consultant Chris Wilson for leaking it, the AP found a third woman, the attorney for one of Cain's accusers held a press conference, and now as high-profile and controversy-enamored defense lawyer Gloria Allred has put forth new allegations by a fourth woman. It's too soon to trust the fundraising bump, and the ABC poll that suggested Cain is surviving the scandal.

But if he does survive it, the onetime political nobody may have deepened his pockets sufficiently for the long haul. If Cain finishes well in Iowa, he could dog Mitt Romney longer than the former Massachusetts governor would like.

Image credit: Jason Reed/Reuters