Is Herman Cain for real? The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and motivational speaker is running a presidential campaign full of contradictions — that is, if he is actually running much of a campaign at all.

Here’s the paradox: A Real Clear Politics average of numerous polls places Cain at the top of the presidential field, with half of a percentage point ahead of Mitt Romney. He leads in a recent Iowa poll with 10 points above Romney. Cain also leads in South Carolina, is neck and neck with Romney in Florida, and made a second place showing in a recent poll of New Hampshire voters. This is good news for Cain the candidate. But something just doesn’t add up when it comes to the Cain campaign.

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Herman Cain is coming in first or a close second in states that will hold their Republican primaries early on in the 2012 season. Yet, based on the traditional measures of what constitutes a serious campaign in these states — that is, the existence of a campaign infrastructure, with offices and soldiers on the ground — Cain misses the mark. In states such as Iowa, South Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire, he has no tangible campaign operation.

Clearly, Cain is taken seriously by the Tea Party base and Republican primary voters. In their eyes, he does not look like the standard cookie cutter politician with canned speeches. And his 9-9-9 tax idea — however scrutinized and criticized as being a flawed plan — is receiving a great deal of attention in the absence of new ideas among a lackluster field of candidates.

Painting him as a clown and buffoon, some critics say that Herman Cain doesn’t know what he’s talking about, citing his flip-flops and clarifications on abortion, immigration, foreign policy and negotiating with terrorists.

Cain maintains that his ability to admit mistakes is presidential. And it is reasonable to conclude that not knowing the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, as Cain called the central Asian country, could prove a virtue for Cain among low-information, anti-intellectual voters.

“The thing that I think is going to convince people that my campaign is credible is the fact that if I make a misstatement, I’m willing to retract it. If I make a mistake, I’m willing to admit I made a mistake,” Cain said this week following a Chicago fundraiser, as he defended an exemption for the poor in his 9-9-9 tax plan.

“The higher up you get in the polls, the more criticism you’re going to get, the more attacks you’re going to get and the more every little word is going to be used for someone to try to take it out of context,” he added. “We fully expected this.”

Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is hard to take a presidential candidate seriously when he lacks a campaign presence in primary battleground states. Perhaps Herman Cain is not serious about running for president. Maybe he is just pretending to run, and just wants to sell his books and use the campaign to increase his visibility like Sarah Palin. Cain would not be the first self-promoter to pretend to run for the White house, nor the last.

Other candidates in the current field with a far less realistic chance of winning the nomination — such as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann — would seem to fall into that category.

But perhaps, in skipping out of the early primary states to promote his new book, Cain doesn’t need to run a real campaign. It is plausible that Cain is allowing the extreme-right billionaire philanthropists Charles and David Koch to do the work for him.

Cain has ties to the Koch Brothers, who have bankrolled anti-union Tea Party governors and lawmakers in Wisconsin and elsewhere. In addition, Koch Industries made secret sales to Iran, a fact which could potentially derail Cain should he face Obama as the Republican nominee in the general election.

In 2005 and 2006, Cain worked for the Koch-created Americans For Prosperity as their chief spokesperson, a pitch man for lower taxes, spending cuts and deregulation. Working as the front man for AFP’s Prosperity 101 initiative, Cain would speak at “voluntary” employer-led workplace seminars and tell employees that their jobs were in danger if they supported regulations, unions and tax increases. “Prosperity is not a dirty word,” Cain says in his sales pitch on the Prosperity 101 website. “It is exactly what the Founding Fathers intended when they founded this great country.”

In early October, Cain told the Occupy Wall Street protesters to blame themselves for their problems. “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself. It is not someone’s fault if they succeeded, it is someone’s fault if they failed,” Cain said.

And at AFP, which is chaired by David Koch, Cain worked alongside Republican operative Mark Block, who is now running Cain’s campaign. Block was banned from participating in Wisconsin politics for three years due to his Tea Party voter suppression tactics in Milwaukee.

Rich Lowrie, the architect of Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, sat on the Americans For Prosperity board for three years. Linda J. Hansen, Cain’s chief fundraiser, Cain national field director Dan Tripp, and media specialist Michael Johnson all worked for the Koch Brothers’ Americans For Prosperity.

Cain recently blamed former Bush advisor Karl Rove for trying to destroy him, to Romney’s benefit, for not being the establishment choice for president. Rove and the Koch Brothers worked together to muddy the political waters, with millions of dollars in campaign spending in the 2010 elections, but now the two camps appear as rivals.

Whether or not Herman Cain’s phantom candidacy will be around a month from now remains to be seen. This is politics, after all, so we’ll just have to follow the money. And while he may well be the latest flavor of the month, Cain’s Koch Brothers backing shows at the least that he is no dummy. And that makes black walnut ice cream a very expensive flavor indeed.