The secret ingredient in Herman Cain’s success

Nati Harnik AP In this Oct. 22, 2011 photo, Republican presidential candidate, businessman Herman Cain speaks in Des Moines, Iowa. … Continued

Nati Harnik


In this Oct. 22, 2011 photo, Republican presidential candidate, businessman Herman Cain speaks in Des Moines, Iowa.

Like many observers of the Republican presidential primary race, I was surprised by Herman Cain’s rise in the polls to catch Mitt Romney as the front-runner. But a new survey by Public Religion Research Institute reveals that Cain’s success in the primary campaign parallels his success in business. Cain has triumphed, not by overpowering the competition, but by creating a niche based on his competitors’ weaknesses.

As an executive at Pillsbury, Cain was tapped to head up the lackluster Godfather’s Pizza after his company somewhat incidentally acquired it in a larger deal in 1985. While it’s not true that Godfather’s pizza was literally on the verge of bankruptcy when Cain took the helm, the company was clearly troubled. When he left in 1996, it hadn’t caught up with larger competitors like Pizza Hut or Domino’s, but the company was on solid financial footing.

Cain succeeded largely by understanding the weaknesses of two distinct groups of competitors: the large chains as well as local mom and pop outlets. Unable to go toe-to-toe with the larger chains on quantity, Cain focused on quality and launched a simple ad campaign with a two-word tagline: “more topping.” To contend with the smaller and more unpredictable neighborhood outlets, Cain also cut down the menu to emphasize its core pizza product, kept prices competitive, and instituted franchise-wide quality controls to ensure consistency across stores. In other words, when it came to business, Cain was not an overpowering juggernaut. Instead, he was a charismatic strategic opportunist who thrived by exploiting his rivals’ shortcomings.

This brief history of Cain’s business strategy, combined with insights from a new survey from Public Religion Research Institute, clarify Cain’s rise in the Republican presidential primary race. Especially in the GOP primary race, where white evangelical Protestants play a prominent role, candidates need to connect with voters on both shared political and religious values. The survey shows that the other frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, each have a weakness among evangelical voters. Cain has benefited from both.

Perhaps in part because of the recent controversy over whether Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is a Christian religion, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, white evangelical Protestant voters are far more likely to identify with Romney’s political views than his religious beliefs. About 1 in 5 evangelical voters say that of the Republican presidential candidates, Romney’s political views are most closely aligned with their own, while only 8 percent say the same of his religious beliefs. On the other hand, as I warned back in September, Rick Perry may have erred too far on the side of sectarian religious rhetoric without establishing himself as a political heavyweight. While 22 percent of evangelical voters say that Perry’s religious beliefs are closest to their own, only 12 percent say they most identify with his political views.

At least for white evangelical Protestant voters, Cain seems to have settled into a void that neither Romney nor Perry can fill. He surpasses both Romney and Perry on political affinity, with 26 percent of evangelical voters reporting that Cain is the Republican presidential candidate whose political views are closest to their own, while rivaling Perry in his ability to connect with voters on religion. Twenty percent of white evangelical voters say that Cain’s religious beliefs resonate most with their own.

Cain’s first real test will come in early January, when the Iowa caucus rolls around. A new CNN/TIME/ORC poll released on October 26 showed Romney with a slight lead over Cain (24 percent and 21 percent, respectively), and Perry tied with Newt Gingrich at a distant 10 percent. Since success in Iowa rides on the candidates’ ability to appeal to the state’s white evangelical Republican base, Cain’s ability to combine both religious and political appeal could solidify his advantage over Rick Perry, and even edge out Romney, who has been focusing on other early states like New Hampshire .

We can see plainly from these numbers that none of the candidates have an outright, across the board advantage. But Cain’s ability to appeal to white evangelical Protestants on religious and political values places him in a distinctive position among the other candidates vying for the support of this crucial Republican demographic. It explains his emergence as Romney’s co-front-runner. What remains to be seen is whether Cain can move beyond his role as canny opportunist to develop a campaign that is established more on his own strengths than his opponents’ weaknesses.

Robert P. Jones
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  • obmed1

    Your analysis s good as far as it goes.But you fail to mention the policy positions Cain has advanced. We all know that our current tax code is a disaster then is destroying the economy and wrecking the lives of millions of people. Anyone with minimum mathematical ability can easily calculate then his 999 plan is perfectly optimized to replace this system. Of all the systems I have heard of Cain’s plan derives then maximum revenue in a very clean simple way and with minimal drag on capital formation, investment and employment. Cain is also an expert on Health policy and his proposals to replace Obama care are very promising. Finally Cain has outstanding leadership qualities. Not since Reagan have I seen a candidate who is to downright likable, genuine, honest and inspired. With Cain you are seeing the real deal. He is not a charlatan or a con man. He has a very good chance of winning the nomination and the next election.

  • ccnl1

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country “ain’t” going to help a “pro-life” presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the “Immoral Majority” rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million “IM” voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?)
    (The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.)

  • CitizenConservative

    Uh hmmm, so it safe to say that “creating a niche based on competitors’ weaknesses” is called problem solving? Come off it, man, how hard do you have to try to demean the man’s accomplishments through obfuscation. Totally lame, and intellectually dishonest. Any competition aims to beat an opponent by exploiting their weaknesses. What, are you an idiot? Don’t be surprised to see Mr. Cain taking the oath of office in about 15 months.

    Cain / Gingrich 2012

  • WmarkW

    Like a lot of outsider candidates, Cain adds a very useful voice to the discussion, but his background doesn’t train him in the complete set of skills necessary to be an effective President.

    By next November, the American voter will be awfully tired of four years of that.

  • CitizenConservative

    Wrong. What the American voter wants and needs right now IS a plain spoken figurehead who makes them proud to be American again. Just as Ronald Reagan brought morning to America, so will Herman Cain. It’s time to shake the malaise and get about the business of kickstarting this economy.

    Cain / Gingrich 2012

  • WmarkW

    Disagree. The next President is going to have to lead us into a new era in which government does a lot less for people than they’re used to, and make Congress deliver budgets without their prefered goodies in them.

    It will take a very skilled politician to get us through the next four years.

  • CitizenConservative

    Skilled politician, or a skilled LEADER? There’s a difference, and I’ll take the leader any day of the week.

    Cain / Gingrich 2012

  • persiflage

    To Romney’s credit, he has donwplayed the religion angle, although his ‘contentious’ Mormon credentials (in the minds of fundamentalists and evangelicals) are in part responsible for this benign neglect.

    On the other hand, Herman Cain is the ever-wiley salesman, with a greater gift of gab than Perry by quite a margin….it must be the preacher in him.

    Ultimately though, what he’s really interested in is securing the GOP nomination. followed by the implementation of his own hard right corporate agenda.

    As usual, the gullible evangelicals are playing right into Cain’s hand….it’s really an art form and he has no peer among the current crop of candidates.

    Of course he’s not presidential material by any stretch of the imagination, but selling religion is apparently part and parcel of today’s degenerate political climate.

    Meanwhile, continued stalling on all budgetary and economic issues by the GOP is to be expected right into 2012. America is merely a pawn in this ideological power struggle.

    Thi will be a take-no-prisoners kind of election if there ever was one……….for republicans Romney is the only sane choice. But n the end, a republican is still a republican by any other name.

  • leetrav

    Mr. Herman Cain’s ‘secret ingredient’ is We the People and the fact he isn’t ‘them’.
    Mr. Herman Cain is a good man, a good Christian, a good problem solver, has much needed common sense, and is a ‘proven’ business and community leader. All qualities that are needed to get us out of the economic nightmare we all face. The ‘career politicians’ and all of those who have, blindly, ‘played along’ are the problem. That means us too. Over the last 60+ years we, sort of, put our trust in our leadership on ‘cruise control’. ‘We the People’ trusted too much. We didn’t pay enough attention to the ‘details’. BOTH parties, over that same time period, began to put stuff over on us. It all started ‘innocent’ enough I’m sure. They have always, operated on the ‘down low’ when ‘serving’ us. Decades of ‘political engineering’ and manipulation. Relentlessly spending and spending some more. Passing their often hidden personal agendas and ‘pork’ in the mountains of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, legislation, regulations, and the ever more confusing tax codes. It has, interestingly, benefited everyone, the ‘special’, and no one, all at the same time. Then to make matters worse they would spend and spend some more.
    Now we find ourselves looking ‘down the road’, seeing emanate disaster, and We the People need to ‘slam on the brakes’. We must defeat BOTH parties king-maker ‘machines’. We must ‘see’ the media ‘favoritism and manipulation’. They are and have always been ‘followers and opportunist’. And because of the enormous amounts of money involved, they almost always pander to the ‘party line’ of one or both parties..
    ‘We the People’ have to reject this convoluted ‘system’, the GOP’s darling RINOs, and Obama. We have let these people ‘run amok’ for far too long. The results speak for themselves. We are trying to survive the ‘Worst economy since the Great Depression’. They are ‘running up the tab’ too. Workin’ on 15 Trillion in debt. Worst of all, they are passing the ‘bill’ over to us, our ch

  • leetrav

    Consider the source…NPR and their numbers come from the Tax Policy Center…is is connected to Urban Institute and Brookings Institute…hardly non-partisan or unbiased. All three ‘consult and advise’ on the Fantastic 70,000+ , 10,000,000 word tax fiasco we have now and have their fingerprints all over it. Wake up ‘brother’. Denial is NOT a river in Eygpt.

  • leetrav

    Agree 100% CC.

  • leetrav

    I think your first statement is wrong. We are all important regarding presidential elections.
    That being said I’m a conservative that believes this whole ‘issue’ doesn’t fall under the purview of the government…any government.
    Less government means LESS government. We can’t have it both ways. The ‘issue’ at hand is so very delicate, personal and private. Families and individuals are put in these and other personal situations because of a myriad of seen and unforeseen reasons. The ‘blame’ isn’t always clear or uncomplicated. Why is any of it the governments business? It is ‘quicksand’ for all involved. The individuals, their ‘values’, their ‘faith’, their families, people they deem worthy of their ‘confidence’ and trust and compassionate, loving people are what those in this situation need. NOT government or opportunist politicians. It is quicksand for them too.
    Less IS more. jmho

  • leetrav

    What we have now is tiring. What we’ve experienced over the last several decades has just about ruined us. ANYTHING but those RINOs and Obama will be the ‘vacation’ we haven’t had in years because of the lousy economy. Those fools seem to take a ‘holiday’ more than they work. Give us all a break.

  • Secular1

    Leetrav, what has Cain being a good christian got do with anything. Is it your belief that good jew or good atheist are not cut for the job? That makes sense only if you are christian bigot.. You are railing against favoritism of both parties, do you really believe Cain will not show any favortism, at all? If the answer to these questions is yes, then I have beach property in Kansas I need to unload on you.

  • MonkChanan

    Its NOT opportunism to be good at business you know! Its not opportunism to be good at Free Enterprise…Such a statement as your can only come from someone who prefers the State to free initiative. Are ya a Commie Jones, or are you just a sell-out…

  • MonkChanan

    Just because you are good at business doe NOT make you an opportunist! Credit to him showing that Free Enterprise works. What are you just a lazy commie Jones, Or are are you just a f….ng Sell-out!

  • MonkChanan

    You again Jones….right out in left field, backing the State one moment, the next backing a creep who reads Scientology at night (Romney)…Look here Bozo, Pat Robertson is unmitigated hypocrisy! He`s such a hypocrite, he`s evil. And you sit there unable to put even a plastic arrow their way is the epitome of sell-out – you aren`t even worthy of the name Jones!

  • persiflage

    ‘Cain’s ability to combine both religious and political appeal could solidify his advantage over Rick Perry, and even edge out Romney, who has been focusing on other early states like New Hampshire .’

    Cain is toast. The majority of republicans will eventualy default to Romney, And consider this – we haven’t had a bald president since Harry Truman, and Cain is on the wrong side of that political equation.

    The fact that the GOP has no strong contenders for POTUS has created the illusion that anyone can be nominated……..the fact that the anti-tax Koch brothers are ulitmately the supportive force behind Cain’s magical appearance in the race has apparently been lost on the media.

  • persiflage

    I got that wrong – Eisenhower was a baldy too, but Ike would hardly be anyone’s idea of a ‘good’ republican today.

    He actually knew what ‘fair and balanced’ meant – and didn’t he warn us of the dangers of the military/industrial complex? The GOP understands that today there is little difference between the two, and vigorously forge their preferential coroporate and defense spending policies ideas accordingly.

    After more than 2 trillion dollars wasted on Iraq, Obama finally pulls out the troops, and republicans scream bloody murder – the hypocrisy of the GOP is really beyond belief.

  • WmarkW

    The Republican dark horses are betting that this year’s general election will be a landslide, so it doesn’t matter that much who the nominee is. Anyone who can get nominated by riding a niche could win, and that includes Paul, Bachmann, Cain,… anyone who can get nominated.

    This might seem farfetched, but if you had known in early 2007 how bad the financial crisis would get in autumn 08, what odds would you have given that Hilary wouldn’t be President?

  • persiflage

    Mark, Hillary would certainly have gotten my vote – but today we’d still be in the same fix. It’s pretty clear that large numbers of voters will simply vote based on their general dissatisfaction, rather than on their general knowledge. This reflexive behavioral trend is always manipulated to the maximum during every election, and now is no exception.

    I have little doubt regarding the outcome if you are proven correct – and otherwise remain convinced that a republican president coupled with a republican congress will be very, very bad for the country – in ways that aren’t even being discussed today.

    While I sincerely wish that know nothing voters gleefully voting against their own best interests would only impact their own future, such is not the case. Even so, the damage to me personally will be minimal even with a republican administration – the same cannot be said for millions that will be adversely effected by arcane and regressvie GOP policies in the here and now.

    And millions more in the future will never know the relative economic comfort and modest affluence that once was something that was an essential part of the middle class in America.

    Corporations really are in control, and with the right kind of legislation at the hands of bought and sold politicos, will have total power to completely determine the economic fate of 9 1/2 out of every 10 citizens. That’s called feudalism via a corporate oligarchy.

    In any event, Romney would be the best of the lot, but even that is giving him the benefit of the doubt. After all, this guy is the 1% in spades. Obama has his shortcomings, but has been forced to battle republicans since first getting elected – never once have they cooperated for the good of the nation. Instead, it’s been a no holds barred ‘defeat Obama’ effort from day one. Mitch McConnell in the Senate is the singularly most disgusting politician I ever witnessed in high public office.

    Who can trust people like this to govern honestly and f

  • DonBugg

    “A creep who reads Scientology at night”? Really? Unless you’re willing to give that absurd claim some credibility, then I guess we can save the time and trouble it might take to read the rest of what you’ve said here.

  • UncleBuck2

    The present day Pols, leftwing news organizations, and B.O. (stinky himself) just don’t know how to fight ‘charisma’.

  • dontworryaboutit

    The GOP finally found a minority clone.