TAMPA, Fla.—Herman Cain is thinking about running for president, even though it’s likely you’ve never heard of him.
And that’s OK — at least right now — for the black Republican who has become a sought after speaker on the Tea Party circuit. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza says he’s going to build a grassroots coalition of supporters from the bottom up, if he decides to run, and if the Tea Party movement in 2010 is any indication, Republicans won’t be looking to nominate a household name for president in 2012.
“They’re ready for a non-establishment candidate,” Cain, casually dressed in a blue shirt and slacks, said here in Florida during an interview Thursday after addressing an enthusiastic crowd at a “Spending Revolt” rally. “I will run proudly as a non-establishment candidate. I think the public has an appetite for a non-establishment candidate.”
Though he may not be well-known on the national stage, the stage 4 cancer survivor and chairman of the Hermanator PAC is a star among the conservative grassroots. Activists who showed up to the Americans for Prosperity’s “Spending Revolt” bus tour this week didn’t hide their admiration.
“He’s a beautiful package,” said Bob Prescott, a Jacksonville man selling campaign buttons, while Cain addressed an audience in Tampa. Prescott said he’s heard the Tea Party star speak multiple times and would support a Cain bid in 2012.
During multiple stops Thursday to talk about wasteful government spending, Cain was careful not to speak about his political ambitions, as Americans for Prosperity does not endorse candidates and is strict about keeping their events non-partisan.
But that didn’t stop the Orlando crowd from applauding when Cain mentioned his desire for a new occupant in the White House. “I’m not announcing anything,” he said to laughter. “I’m just saying.”
Cain hosts a daily radio show in Georgia and travels regularly with an aide to Tea Party events, where he’s cultivating a fan base. At one bus stop Thursday, a woman held up a “Cain 2012” sign. At another event, a woman wore a shirt with the same message.
Cain is on the board of Morehouse College, and was recently asked to be on the board of the Tea Party Patriots — but he turned them down — as the umbrella group received a $1 million dollar donation. (Cain says he doesn’t know who the donor is.)
NEXT: Three considerations that will factor into Cain’s decision to run for president
As for 2012, he told The Daily Caller that three considerations will factor into his decision:
— The first is if he can actually build a coalition of conservative, grassroots voters. He’s cultivated relationships with many over the years, especially with groups like FairTax and Americans for Prosperity. Having the Tea Party vote would be vital, and he says he’s already getting “great encouragement from a lot of people.”
—The second consideration is money. He’s already speaking to potential donors — in fact he was on the phone Thursday morning with several. Cain says he won’t run unless he knows he can count on people to write checks and encourage others to do so.
— The third factor is what happens with the elections in November. “If the conservative Republicans are successful in taking back control of the House, that means that the citizens movement — as I call it — is…ready for a presidential candidate who has not necessarily held public office before.”
Cain, who lost a Republican primary bid for the Senate in Georgia in 2004, riled up the crowd at several stops Thursday by telling a story about how a caller phoned into his radio show once and called him shameless for being a black Republican. “People can think for themselves,” Cain said he responded. “You’ve got that mindset with a lot of people out there,” he said in an interview afterwards, going on to argue that there are more black conservatives out there “than the media tells you.”
Cain says he has a track record of “turning businesses around,” like he did by making Godfather’s Pizza profitable. When it comes to criticism of Obama, he says the president “doesn’t have any CEO DNA.”
“I’m not a politician. I’m a problem solver,” Cain says. “The people of Washington DC — when was the last time they fixed anything? Name one. They haven’t fixed anything. That’s what frustrates me and a lot of people.”