After weeks of speculation regarding his candidacy, Herman Cain ended his bid for the Republican nomination on Saturday. This announcement did not come as a shock since his campaign has been beset by allegations of sexual improprieties for many weeks. His official departure from the race would shake loose his conservative supporters who would start looking for another candidate to support.
Cain’s supporters are true believers. They thus want to back a candidate who holds their own conservative beliefs while at the same time could defeat the president. To achieve their goal of making President Barack Obama a one-term president, they might have to vote with their heads rather than their hearts. Cain’s supporters, however, are more likely to shift their allegiance to Newt Gingrich since they have a stronger cultural connection with the former speaker and they tend to distrust Mitt Romney.
Cain’s candidacy is rooted within the Tea Party movement. Before announcing he was running for the nomination of the Republican Party, he gave a number of speeches to Tea Party groups. Months after he launched his campaign, Cain did not get much traction. As a result, he did not raise sufficient funds to build a credible campaign apparatus. With few staff members working for him, Cain campaigned mostly by participating in debates and giving television interviews especially as a regular on Fox News. GOP rival Mitt Romney was the early frontrunner in the beginning of the primary season. The conservative activists, however, have always been lukewarm toward Romney; his support thus has remained stuck in the 20s in most early polls. Dissatisfied with Romney as the frontrunner, many of the Tea Party activists breathed life into Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn) campaign until they fervently embraced Texas Governor Rick Perry once he decided to throw his hat into the ring and entered the race. Soon after, Perry’s campaign started to fizzle out following disastrous debate performances. As Perry stumbled, the restless conservative activists began to migrate toward Cain who has been an early supporter of the Tea Party movement and has continued to hew to its ideology.
In an effort to appeal to the Tea Partiers who gave a jolt to his campaign, Cain did not shy away from making controversial statements. For instance, he declared that he would not feel comfortable appointing Muslims neither in his cabinet nor as judges and he also stated that African Americans have been brainwashed to vote Democrat. More importantly, Cain’s contention that racial prejudice is a thing of the past strongly resonates with Tea Party activists. Although Cain’s rhetoric helped endear him to those conservative activists, their embrace of his candidacy could also be their way of signaling that racial bias has not been a factor or plays any role in galvanizing the movement.
Accusations of sexual harassment and revelation of a long term affair with Ginger White coupled with a lack of knowledge in foreign policy helped derail the “Cain train” in its tracks. Before ending his campaign, Cain was still in double digits in most polls. Hence, the candidate who inherits his supporters would either become the frontrunner or solidify his place as such.
Although he has been embroiled in many controversies in the past and carries some heavy personal baggage, it is likely that the lion share of Cain’s supporters might shift their support to Newt Gingrich because he has a stronger cultural affinity with these voters than Romney who, after all, was the former governor of Massachusetts, which happens to be one of the most liberal states in the country. Moreover, Gingrich has renounced his support of the individual mandate, which is a central plank of the Health Care Act, to align himself more with the GOP base. Even more important, he has been more forceful in his criticisms against the president. Most of all, his harsh denunciations signal to to these ardent activists that he shares both their dismay at the policies put forward by the administration and their antipathy of the oval office occupant. Since conservative activists want a candidate who could take the fight to Obama, his barrage of attacks would certainly make the Tea Party more receptive to his message or better yet to the man himself.
There is no question that Gingrich’s stock is on the rise as it is evident by his poll numbers; but his nomination is far from being a shoo-in. As the election draws closer, if the economy continues to get better, it would improve the chance of the president getting reelected. The conservative base might, then, decide to choose Romney to face Obama since most head-to-head polls still show he will be the most serious contender. Hence, though they might be distrustful of Romney, conservative activists might well use their heads in the voting booth and cast their votes for him. An economy that is recovering at a steady clip might, therefore, end up being Romney’s trump card against Gingrich.
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