Herman Cain, the Howard Dean candidate of the 2012 presidential race?

Alex Pappas | Political Reporter

Is Herman Cain the Howard Dean candidate of the 2012 Republican race for president?

Joe Trippi, who ran Dean’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in the 2004 Democratic primary, says it’s not hard to see the similarities between the type of candidate Dean was for Democrats and Cain is this year for Republicans.

“This thing is the same as 2004,” Trippi said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “You’ve got the Democratic establishment in 2004 and you’ve got the grassroots of the party wanting something different than what the establishment’s feeding them.”

If Dean, the former governor of Vermont, played the role of the outsider in the 2004 race, Cain, the former Godfather’s CEO, is playing a similar role this year in the GOP primary, he said.

“It’s the same thing here with Herman Cain,” he said. “You got a guy who doesn’t believe that the current establishment answers in Romney are the right way to go and he’s a guy who no one thought had a chance and has taken it on.”

Like Dean did by energizing the liberal grassroots of the Democratic Party, Cain has shocked observers with the support of conservatives, going from long shot at the beginning of the campaign to apparent frontrunner today. A Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters this weekend has Cain leading the pack of Republicans running for president.

But Cain, he said, will face the same problems faced by Dean, who went on to lose the Democratic primary in 2004 to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry: the question of whether he can win an general election when the number one goal of the primary voters is to oust the incumbent of the opposite party. (RELATED: Coulter: Liberals ‘are terrified of strong, conservative black men)

“What they love about Howard Dean is he’s directly taking on George Bush and he’s got a backbone that they think their party has been missing and he’s standing up for stuff they believe in on the left that none of these other guys will talk about,” Trippi said of the 2004 race.

“The problem is … they keep saying repeatedly that Howard Dean doesn’t beat George Bush in any polls, that Kerry does that,” he said. “So their problem is, ‘I love this guy because he takes George Bush on, but damnit, I want to beat George Bush. I don’t just want to go to rallies and cheer. I want to beat him. That isn’t enough. If we can’t beat him, cheering doesn’t do any good.’”

Cain may ultimately face the same problem. “Fast forward 2012,” Trippi said. “The tea party despises Obama, is in horrible fear of his re-election and what it would do to the country.” Like Democrats eventually rallied around Kerry, Republicans may go with the safer bet, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, he said. Trippi said “Cain still can win this thing,” but said “the mistakes that he’s making now are being forgiven.” A lesson he can learn from Dean is minimize the gaffes.

“As we get closer to Iowa, closer to New Hampshire, actually getting in the thick of it, if he continues to make them, he will confirm the doubts will that will drive people back to Rommey,” he said.

He continued: “[Cain’s] entering a period now where it will start to matter more than it did last week or two weeks ago …  A month ago, he was the cute cuddly thing that Howard Dean was — the guy that no one thought had a chance to be president so who really cares if he gaffed.”

But a major difference between the two primaries, he said, is that in 2004, Dean was really the only outsider candidate competing in the race. Cain, on the other hand, has competition from rivals like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“This time there really is one establishment, status quo safe candidate, being Romney,” he said. “And the other kind of more tea party, anti-establishment, anti-status quo candidate appealing more to the base — there have been several.”

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