Less than two months after leading the polls in Iowa, Herman Cain has virtually disappeared from the political scene and will have almost no impact on the results in the first contest of the Republican presidential nomination process next week.
Cain, who had been expected to endorse his longtime ally, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, instead has largely stood on the sidelines. His former campaign chief of staff Mark Block told NBC News Thursday that Cain had “no current plans” to back any of his former rivals.
Cain’s latest campaign? For himself.
In a recent interview with the Daily Caller, the former Godfather’s Pizza executive said he should be picked by whoever the GOP nominee is to be Secretary of Defense. (“You don’t even need to have military expertise. You need to have leadership expertise. That’s what I would bring to that job,” Cain said.)
One of the GOP’s most prominent black figures has said little about the controversy over newsletters published under Rep. Ron Paul’s name that included pointed criticisms of Martin Luther King, Jr.
And Cain has so far done little to translate the notoriety from his campaign into influence within the GOP. When Cain suspended his campaign amid numerous allegations of him making inappropriate advances toward women, many conservatives considered him a victim of unfair press attention. He remained popular among grassroots Republicans, and his endorsement might have helped Gingrich or another candidate in Iowa.
But with the candidate remaining silent, Cain’s base of supporter in Iowa has splintered, according to people who worked on his campaign. Polls show the tea party vote in Iowa that Cain at one point had organized around him is now so divided that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could win by dominating the vote among more moderate Republicans.
“They scattered all over, although primarily they’ve gone to Gingrich and Paul,” said Lisa Lockwood, who served as Cain’s communications director in Iowa, referring to Cain’s former supporters. Lockwood herself has not picked a candidate.
Steve Grubbs, who was Cain’s Iowa campaign chairman, told The New Republic that Gingrich was the primary beneficiary, but added, “those looking for strong Tea Party credentials have aligned with (Rep. Michele) Bachmann.”
Roger Burdette, who was a volunteer in Cain’s Iowa headquarters, said he had went with Gingrich because he is “very smart,” but longed for a “true outsider” like Cain.
And some Cain supporters are organizing a write-in campaign for the businessman.
“Iowans are first to make their votes known and their voices heard and we can show people that we are still willing to support Herman Cain,” said Julie Hyland, a jewelry maker in Des Moines who is leading one of the write-in campaigns. “He’s made it clear he stopped campaigning because the media was affecting his wife negatively. If that weren’t the case, he would still be campaigning.”
She added, “I don’t see how this is a wasted vote.”
His recent silence aside, Cain is likely to reemerge. His refusal to endorse any of the candidates in the primary could position Cain to be a prominent supporter of whoever wins, grabbing a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention and perhaps a Cabinet post if the party’s candidate defeats Obama. (To be sure, It is highly unlikely Cain, a person with limited experience on national security issues, would be tapped as Secretary of Defense)
“I miss the debates because I like to rumble,” he said in a recent interview with National Review. “I liked having to think on my feet quickly. But I don’t miss the flyspecking of some people in the media, be it a word, a pause, or a phrase. The American people didn’t care about that; only the media class did.”