ATLANTA — If there is an early crowd favorite in the Republican race for president, it may be Herman Cain.
The businessman, author, talk radio show host and tea party darling knows how to wow a conservative gathering. Now the 65-year-old Cain will try to see if he can use that grass-roots enthusiasm to turn a long-shot presidential campaign into a credible bid.
He plans to announce his candidacy at a rally in Atlanta on Saturday, an announcement that’s hardly a secret.
Cain has been crisscrossing the country for months now, his intentions abundantly clear.
So are his views, espoused for years on his radio show and in speeches. He supports a strong national defense, opposes abortion, backs replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax and favors a return to the gold standard.
He’s never held elected office, having lost a three-way Republican U.S. Senate primary bid in Georgia in 2004 with a quarter of the vote. His “Hermanator” political action committee has taken in just over $16,000 so far this year.
Cain says he’s running “a bottoms-up, outside-the-box campaign.” And supporters say he taps into the tea party-fueled desire for plain-speaking citizen candidates.
“I just love him,” gushed Laura Miller, a self-described “Cainiac” from Jessup, Ga. “What he says makes so much sense.”
Born in Memphis, Tenn., and raised in Atlanta, Cain is the son of a chauffeur and a maid. He attended historically black Morehouse College, earned a master’s degree from Purdue University and worked as a mathematician for the Navy before beginning to scale the corporate ladder. He worked at Coca-Cola, Pillsbury and Burger King before taking the helm of the failing Godfather’s Pizza franchise, which he rescued by shuttering hundreds of restaurants.
He burst onto the political stage when he sparred with President Bill Clinton over the Democrat’s health care reform plan at a 1994 town hall meeting.
“On behalf of all of those business owners that are in a situation similar to mine,” asked Cain, “my question is, quite simply, if I’m forced to do this, what will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?”
Republican Jack Kemp described Cain as having “the voice of Othello, the looks of a football player, the English of Oxfordian quality and the courage of a lion.”
In 2006, Cain was diagnosed with liver and colon cancer. He says he’s been cancer-free since 2007 and credits the nation’s health care system with keeping him alive. He says it’s one reason he’s so passionately opposed to the federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama.
At a speech last week in Macon, Ga., Cain gave a glimpse of the rationale for his candidacy, arguing that the American dream is under attack from runaway debt, a stagnant economy and a Democratic administration forcing a legislative agenda citizens don’t want.