Though Herman Cain’s success is regularly dismissed as a passing fad, Republican campaign strategists tell The Daily Caller that a narrow but navigable path to the GOP nomination actually exists for the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO.
The most likely scenario is for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to stumble and for Cain to firmly grasp the anti-Romney mantle within the party.
“A path exists but it lies in the elimination of Governor Perry as a candidate,” Republican strategist Chris LaCivita told The Daily Caller. “The only way Herman Cain in my opinion can emerge as a serious contender, is to surpass Governor Perry and demonstrate that he has the endurance to match the organization of Governor Romney.”
Republican political advertising consultant Dan Hazelwood echoed LaCivita’s suggestion that Cain’s path to the nomination is dependent not only upon his own performance, but on the failure of other candidates, particularly Perry.
“Cain’s great challenge is not only does he need to perform well, but he needs selected opponents to under-perform,” he said.
Hazelwood explained that in order for Cain to win the nomination, he needs to place in the top three spots in both Iowa and New Hampshire while Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Perry falter, making himself the “social conservative front runner after New Hampshire.”
“From that point, depending on the calendar, he needs to come in a strong 2nd to Romney in the next state followed by a first place win in the next,” Hazelwood laid out. (RELATED: Cain once wanted Tiger Woods to run for president)
“So after New Hampshire he needs to coalesce the anti-establishment forces around his campaign as the primary challenger to Romney. He can’t do well in these early states if Perry is viewed as the primary challenger to Romney.”
The last few weeks show Cain surging: he pulled off a surprise victory in the Florida Straw Poll on Sept. 24, prompting a much-needed infusion of money from donors.
Polls now also show Cain placing in the top tier, and Gallup on Tuesday said Cain’s current positive intensity is the highest Gallup has measured for any GOP presidential candidate to date.
Many Republicans, however, express skepticism about how far Cain will go once he faces the scrutiny contenders like Perry, Bachmann and other candidates have endured.
“Unfortunately for Herman, rhetoric can only get you so far,” said longtime Republican consultant Diana Banister.
Banister said “the American people and Republican activists are simply fed up with Washington politicians” and Cain connects well with them with his “soaring Southern Baptist preacher oratory.”
“While he can learn the issues on the way, more scrutiny of his policy positions will be forthcoming, just as they were with Gov. Perry and Rep. Bachmann when they were surging,” she said. “How he handles that scrutiny will determine how far he can take his campaign.”
But while nearly all of the eight political strategists who talked to TheDC about Cain said that his path to the nomination was at best rocky, many added that a Cain triumph was certainly not inconceivable.
“I think the climb is steep,” said Rick Tyler, a former press secretary to Newt Gingrich. “The fact is we’ve never had a businessman go from being a businessman to the presidency.”
“But we’ve never had $14 trillion in debt, we’ve never had sustained unemployment this long since the depression, and so the mood now is such that people are looking for an alternative to politicians,” Tyler said.
“Herman Cain does have a chance of winning the Republican nomination just like anybody else that is attracting strong conservative grassroots support throughout the nation,” said David Bossie, president of Citizens United. “I think winning Iowa for Cain is a must. If he is able to win in Iowa, I can see his simple innovative economic message resonating with New Hampshire voters as well.”
In a recent interview with TheDC, Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, explained Cain’s “delegate-count strategy,” which some have expressed skepticism over, especially since it includes plans to visit places like North Dakota and other states that don’t hold early primaries.
“Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina are very important,” Block said. “But so is Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee.”
He said the Cain campaign has “strategies in place to continue that momentum,” including “rolling out more bold policy initiatives.”
“Some of the things you’re going to see in October are going to be as bold as 9-9-9,” Block said, referencing Cain’s catchy slogan for his tax reform proposal.
Still, some strategists who TheDC talked to said Cain’s prospects are so dim they are non-existent.
“Republicans don’t let new candidates go too far too fast,” said Brian Lunde, a former Democratic campaign manager who co-chaired Democrats for Bush in 2004, dismissing Cain’s chances.
“I don’t yet see the financial capacity inside the Cain campaign to get this done,” said Terry Nelson, a Republican strategist who advised former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty earlier in the campaign cycle.
As for John Dunagan, the senior vice president of DDC Advocacy, only the most unlikely of all scenarios could propel Cain into contention for the GOP nomination — a Romney personal scandal.
“The only potential path to the nomination for Mr. Cain is the unlikely discovery of a scandal in Governor Romney’s past,” he said. “However, given his solid-as-a-rock family background and the fact that he has already been through two statewide and one national contest; I find that extremely unlikely at this point.”