When Herman Cain takes the debate stage Tuesday night in New Hampshire, it’ll be the first time the Republican presidential candidate will do so as a top tier candidate.
In prior debates, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO has used his time to introduce himself to primary voters and charm them with memorable one-liners without being attacked by his opponents. He just hasn’t been seen as much of a threat.
But now that many polls show him placing in the top three, will that change? And is Cain ready for such scrutiny?
“Mr. Cain’s debate strategy has always been about just being Mr. Cain, and it’s worked out very well for him,” spokesman J.D. Gordon told The Daily Caller.
Gordon declined to comment on whether the campaign expects to be put on the defensive more so than ever at the debate, instead saying Cain will focus on talking about his 9-9-9 tax reform plan.
One candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, has signaled that he may be taking aim at Cain. Before Cain’s recent surge, many speculated that Santorum could be the next to rise.
In a new radio ad running in Iowa, Santorum accuses Cain of “strongly” supporting “the Wall Street bailouts.” (RELATED: Country singer Lee Greenwood endorses Cain)
And Santorum, whose campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story, also has made it clear he doesn’t agree with Cain’s tax plan: “I know there’s a plan out there, the 9-9-9. I’ve got a better one; it’s the zero-zero-zero plan,” he said at a conservative gathering last week.
But Wayne F. Lesperance, Jr., a professor of political science at New England College in Henniker, N.H., is skeptical that his rivals will spend much time on Cain.
“The other candidates cannot ignore his recent bump in the polls and new found status among GOP voters,” he told TheDC. “That said, I think most will look at his organization, his schedule of appearances focusing on a book tour, and what appears to be a less than aggressive overall effort in the early states and decide that even if he wanted to, he will not be able to take advantage of his new found success.”
Continuing, Lesperance said: “Perry is likely to ignore him since there is no upside to reminding folks that Cain is somehow challenging him for the alternative to Romney role. Romney is likely to praise Cain because that’s Romney’s style and it further diminishes Perry. The other candidates like Santorum and Bachmann are likely to ignore him as they’ve done in the past. There just is no upside to going after him in a big way.”
“There may be some shots about his lack of experience,” he said. “But, my sense is they will see his polling bumps as temporary and conclude that going after him is more likely to backfire than advance their cause.”
But Cain admits he’s ready to play defense — with the debate moderators and the press.
“I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come,” he told CBN’s David Brody. “And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say you know, I don’t know. Do you know? And then I’m going to say how’s that going to create one job?”