The Mystique of the Herman Cain Campaign

Voters are giving Herman Cain the benefit of doubt but his 2012 presidential election campaign could derail if he cannot rehabilitate his image and sharpen his knowledge of the issues.

The last few weeks have been tough for Herman Cain. In addition to the sexual harassment claims made against him and his seemingly cavalier attitude about them, the Republican presidential hopeful has demonstrated what is to some political observers a shocking lack of knowledge about current and historic national security and foreign policy facts. These are issues that in the past would likely have derailed any other candidacy, yet the response among Republican voters has been so mixed that he may actually hang on to challenge rival Mitt Romney in the early primary and caucus states.


In recent polls, Cain is still in the top tier of candidates. The results of a Bloomberg News poll of Iowa voters published Nov. 15 showed him topping the list at 20 percent, followed by Rep. Ron Paul (19 percent), Mitt Romney (18 percent) and Newt Gingrich (17 percent) among likely participants in the state’s critical caucuses that start in seven weeks.


Yet in an ABC News/Washington Post poll published Nov. 15, 36 percent of respondents said they view Cain unfavorably, almost double the 17 percent who said so in October.


University of Michigan political scientist Vincent Hutchings attributes the mixed reaction to the fact that Cain was previously a less well-known candidate and many voters were indifferent or informed about him.


“I suspect that as the information about the sexual harassment allegations has come out his unfavorability numbers have risen not entirely because people who previously had positive views about now have negative views, but because people who were indifferent now have negative views,” Hutchings said.


Although Hutchings, like most, believes that Romney will be the GOP’s ultimate nominee, he also predicts that Cain will ride out the entire primary process unless a smoking gun related to the harassment claims is fired. Most people, he said, can wrap their heads around what it means when a man abuses a position of power to take advantage of women, but 95 percent of Americans don’t clearly understand the Libya issue either, so they won’t hold Cain accountable for his foreign policy gaffes.


“It remains a he said-multiple-she said [situation] and a significant faction of the Republican primary electorate simply dismisses these charges as a kind of liberal witch hunt, so there’s a presumption of innocence,” Hutchings said. “He’s denied it and we’re not in a position to refute that denial.”


Brian Darling, a strategist for the conservative Heritage Foundation, agrees that voters are willing to continue giving Cain the benefit of doubt until more details surface.


“Because it’s such an amorphous and nonspecific body of allegations, they want to hear more about it before they make up their minds,” said Darling.


Still, Darling said, because the scandal has been Cain’s introduction to so many Americans, he’s going to have to work hard to rehabilitate his image if he hopes to get any further in the campaign.


“Cain is going to have to show some credibility in foreign policy issues to overcome the gaffe on Libya, and let people know more about him than these issues,” Darling said.


If he gives some speeches, performs well in debates and answers questions, maybe people will get over the scandal, Darling added.

(Photo: Joe Raedle/GettyImages)

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