The US Republican Party is trying very hard. It wants to beat Barack Obama in the US Presidential election 13 months from now it believes with the economy in the mess it’s in, with unemployment rising and people finding every day a little bit harder, that the man who won the last election at a canter is vulnerable. They believe he can be a one-term president.
They just can’t agree who should be the candidate.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has tried before and failed. This time he has led the polls for a while, but still the Republicans cast around looking for other figures who are chased and hounded for days only to announce that it’s not for them this time.
We have flavours of the month. Michelle Bachmann, the Congresswoman from Minnesota, has been very popular with the so called Tea Party activists, the right wing of the Republican movement who so adored Sarah Palin. But her bubble burst at the end of the summer and hasn’t been the force her polling numbers suggested at one time she would be. She didn’t help her cause in the most recent debate by criticising President Obama when she complained: “He had us in Libya and now he has us in Africa.” But that may have been a gaffe that few picked up on.
And there’s Rick Perry, the tall, charismatic, conservative Governor of Texas. He succeeded George W Bush when he won the presidency, and now wants to follow him into the White House. But lackluster performances in the debates have seen his approval ratings drop. And displays of temper in the debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday night were criticised by some party faithful as “petulant”, “unnecessary” and “not what you would expect from someone who wants to be President”.
Party of the “Romney problem” with Republicans is his religion. He’s a Mormon. And some on the right wing have not been slow to point it out, suggesting that this somehow makes him different to ‘Christian’ candidates.
And so Herman Cain has become an unlikely challenger in the race. The businessman from Atlanta is not your typical political operative, and that may be why people find him so appealing. He has never held political office. He has no campaign organisation. When asked if he has employees on the ground in New Hampshire he answered ‘I have three’, a very small number for the first contest in the primary beauty contest to find a candidate.
The only African American in the race, his name recognition with Republican voters remains at around 50%, below other so called ‘fringe’ candidates. But he now wins around 29 per cent of support when Republicans are asked who they want as their nominee, just five points behind the front runner Romney.
He has suggested reforming the Tax system and creating a 9-9-9 system. That’s a 9 percent income tax for everyone, a 9 percent sales tax nationwide and a 9 percent business tax. He disputes economists claims that this would leave most people worse off.
Cain admits he is not politically correct. Just hours after saying he would negotiate with terrorists to free any captured US soldiers, he claimed he “misspoke” or “perhaps didn’t understand the question”. He told reporters earlier this year he would not appoint any Muslims to his administration if elected President. And he frequently mentions threat of those who would seek to impose Sharia Law in America while on the campaign trail.
For so many reasons, a Herman Cain win seems unlikely, but earlier this year he won the straw poll among Republicans in Florida. And since 1982, no-one has secured the party nomination without that victory. And polls continually suggest he is the only Republican who can beat President Obama in a straight fight.
Mitt Romney remains the most likely to succeed. But Herman Cain’s unlikely challenge could still take him to the White House, as the number 2 on the Republican ticket.