Herman Cain an Elusive Target for His Rivals

Thursday, 20 Oct 2011 03:17 PM

By Dan Weil

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Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s recent surge in the polls has presented rivals with a difficult proposition: how to take him down, Politico reports.

Most politically inexperienced insurgents like the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO fade from the top quickly. So should his opponents just stand aside and hope he goes away? Or should they take action to hasten his demise?

Each course of action carries risk. If the other candidates leave Cain alone, there’s a chance he will turn into the little insurgent that could — could win the nomination that is.

And if his challengers go after Cain, it might backfire, given his popularity and his outside-the-Beltway credentials. As an outsider without a political record, Cain doesn’t make an inviting target. Any effort to pull him down must also steer clear of racial innuendo.

“If you’re not really careful how you handle him, there will be a real backlash,” Ed Rollins, a strategist who worked on the insurgent campaigns of Ross Perot, Mike Huckabee, and Michele Bachmann, told Politico.

The other candidates showed ambivalence toward Cain at Tuesday’s debate. They went after his signature 9-9-9 tax plan, but quickly pulled back and included warm personal comments.

GOP consultant Rick Wilson points out that Cain’s opponents can’t truly gauge his strength yet. “The question for these guys is: Is Herman Cain a Marco Rubio or Rand Paul or Mike Lee, or is Herman Cain a Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle?” Wilson told Politico. “They don’t know the answer to that yet, so they’re going to wait for the process to do what it needs to do.”

Cain’s rivals should take advantage of his lack of experience, Rollins says. “I would treat him with great respect. I would say, ‘He’s an extraordinary businessman, but here are some fallacies to the ideas. He’s a guy who’s not been around government, and running a pizza empire is not the same as running a government.’”

But that could backfire. “‘You’re naive, you don’t understand how Washington works,’ plays right into his hands,” Steve Murphy, who managed Democrat Dick Gephardt’s 2004 campaign, told Politico. “It makes the point that they’re of Washington and he’s not.”

Joe Trippi, campaign manager for Democratic candidate Howard Dean in 2004, says Cain’s rivals must convince voters that he can’t win the general election.

“Anything that can help make the case that he can’t win is where you have to go, because when you have an Obama kind of threat looming over the party, it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are,” he told Politico. “You’ve got to make the case to Republican primary voters about why you don’t want to take a chance on Cain.”

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