By Daly, Michael; Graham, David A.
Newsweek , Vol. 158, No. 17
Byline: Michael Daly and David A. Graham; With Allison Samuels, Lois Romano, Howard Kurtz, Patricia Murphy, and Heather Vincent
A month ago, he was a punchline. Now Herman Cain is laughing. Meet the rising GOP star who is confounding the punditsand much of black America.
Herman Cain had last been at the Hyatt Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, in July as a ridiculously unlikely Republican candidate for president, a man who summarizes himself as an "ABC."
"American black conservative," Cain says.
Now, by the magic of his personality, a preacher-bred speaking style, a bootstrap personal narrative, and a catchy name for a tax overhaul, the ABC was back at the hotel as a frontrunner against the perpetually unexciting Mitt Romney. Sitting down for a breakfast interview with Newsweek on Friday morning, following a strong debate performance earlier in the week that helped propel him to the lead slot in several polls, Cain was suddenly the great black hope of the GOP, the anti-Obama. "I believe he's a decent man," Cain says of the president. "But he's a terrible leader."
Cain seems determinedly undaunted by political practicalities, however heavily they weigh against his chances. He remains a black Republican in a predominantly white party who has only a fledgling organization and no ground game in the crucial early primary and caucus states. And until very recently, he didn't seem to have much of a sense of urgency about his own campaign, wandering off the trail to do a book tour for a time--which caused the departure of several staffers who were concerned that he wasn't serious about running for president.
For all those shortcomings, Cain has become the vessel for a loud and stubborn resistance in Republican ranks to the party's tradition of rallying around the big-name, big-bucks establishment candidate. He is the latest beneficiary of the anybody-but-Romney crowd, which fell in and out of love with Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, and can only think "what if" of Chris Christie. In a year when anti-establishment sentiment is raging and conventional wisdom is useless, Herman Cain has found his moment and seems to be having a blast riding the high. Denying Sarah Palin's charge that he is the flavor of the week, Cain quipped, "I'm Haagen-Dazs black walnut. It lasts longer than a week."
From an early age, Cain, 65, has coped with racism by changing the civil-rights mantra to the singular--"I shall overcome"--to the fury of those African-American leaders who stick to "we." A man who has called himself "the CEO of Self" has become a candidate who allows Republicans to oppose America's first black president without feeling racist. He suggests that a matchup between himself and Obama would prove that race is not a major factor in American politics.
"It's not about color," he says over bacon and eggs. "It's going to be about the content of your ideas."
The content of some of his ideas seems sure to alienate less conservative voters. He is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest. He has denounced global warming as a sham. He has suggested that the way to deal with Iran is by deploying more warships and increasing our ballistic-missile stocks. He has applauded Arizona's immigration crackdown. He has warned against the danger of Sharia creeping into our legal system. He has even come close to saying that many of those who are poor choose to be. "When I heard him on TV I was like, 'What kind of Negro is this?'?" says Ralph Anderson, an unemployed construction worker in Los Angeles. "I've been looking for work for a year, and I dare someone to tell me I don't want a job and that I don't want to have money to pay my bills and take care of my children."
Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California is convinced that Cain's 15 minutes will be up soon, no matter the current uproar over his success. "He's said a few things, in particular about poor people being at fault for their poverty, that simply won't allow him to get much further, and not with African-Americans," Waters says. …