How the Hermanator could face Obama

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The Independent Online

Could it be that 12 months from now, as the 2012 election campaign moves to a climax, no white man will have a chance of winning the presidency of the United States? In other words, might Barack Obama's Republican challenger be not Mitt Romney or the Rick Perry – but an African-American businessman named Herman Cain?

A glance at the current polls would suggest that the once inconceivable is suddenly a distinct possibility. Since he trounced Mr Perry in a straw poll vote in Florida on 24 September, Mr Cain – who has never held elective office of any kind and is best known as former boss of the Godfather's Pizza franchise – has climbed to at least a tie for second place with the Texas Governor Mr Perry, and a few points behind the unloved front runner Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, who seems to have been running for the White House for ever.

And he may be even doing better than that. Everyone's heard of rogue polls – but one roguish enough to put Mr Cain 20 per cent ahead of his rivals, beyond any imaginable statistical margin of error? That was the finding of the respected Zogby poll last Thursday, showing he had the support of 38 per cent of likely Republican primary voters, against 18 per cent for Mr Romney, and just 12 per cent for Mr Perry.

Political sages have several explanations for Mr Cain's surge. He is for a start, the latest in a long line of "ABRs", the new favourite of conservative and Tea Party Republicans whose mantra is "Anybody But Romney".

First there was that rather more famous businessman Donald Trump, then the Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, then Mr Perry. Now it is the turn of "the Hermanator" (to borrow the name of Mr Cain's political action committee).

Second, he is a highly effective debate performer in a political year when candidate's debates count more than ever – certainly more right now than the traditional yardsticks of fundraising and campaign organisation.

And then of course there is his race, and the paradox of a black man becoming the presidential standard bearer of a party that has sometimes played the race card hard and ugly. Mr Cain is the counter-intuitive conservative black man.

The rise of Herman Cain may be for real – or it may just be one more venting of Republican frustration against the establishment in general and Mitt Romney in particular. One thing though is sure. This will not be the last twist in this most unpredictable of years in American politics.