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Can Herman Cain actually win the GOP nomination?

Herman Cain continues to run strong in polls of Republican voters nationwide and in key states. So why do experts still say he's a long shot for the GOP nomination? Organization and experience.

By Staff writer / October 27, 2011

Presidential candidate Herman Cain applauds as he waits to speak at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Presidential Forum at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday.

Brian C. Frank/REUTERS

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Washington

From the start, Herman Cain has confounded the Republican elite. The former pizza magnate, Navy mathematician, and talk radio host with no political experience jumped into the presidential race with both feet way back in January and has never looked back.

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Mr. Cain has enticed GOP voters with his catchy "9-9-9" tax plan and moved them with his up-by-the-bootstraps life story. He has also raised eyebrows with a series of gaffes, strange ads, and reports of "chaos" within his campaign. But he’s a robo-candidate, plowing ahead, ever-smiling. And he’s ahead in the polls among likely GOP primary voters, both nationally and in key early nominating states. His Achilles’ heel is fundraising and organization.

Could Cain actually win the Republican nomination? In theory, yes. But political analysts still view Cain as a long shot.

A story in The New York Times posted Wednesday quotes former aides describing a campaign that churns through staff, mishandles potential donors, and makes nonsensical scheduling decisions. All campaigns, especially those new to presidential politics, go through some disorder, but given that Cain’s argument for the presidency is his private-sector management experience, he has a lot to prove in short order.

But at least one experienced Republican strategist now working for Cain speaks optimistically about Cain’s chances. Steve Grubbs, the new chairman of Cain’s campaign in Iowa, describes an effort that is now on track in this critical early nominating state, with fundraising that is “doing dramatically better” and finally getting volunteers organized. Mr. Grubbs, former chairman of the Iowa GOP who has worked on past presidential campaigns, spoke to the Monitor Wednesday by phone after a meeting with Iowa campaign staff and volunteers.

“The volunteer phone bank was brisk,” said Grubbs. “That’s what I wanted to see. That’s a bit of a change.”

In July, Cain’s top staffers in Iowa resigned, citing a lack of attention by Cain to the state. Grubbs’s appointment as Iowa chairman, announced last Thursday, signaled a renewed commitment by Cain to Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest on Jan. 3. Grubbs says the campaign’s goal is to appoint precinct captains to 80 percent of the state’s 1,800 precincts by Dec. 1.

“So far, we’re exceeding our goals,” says Grubbs, who is unpaid. Cain has four paid staffers in Iowa, he says.

The name of the game in Iowa is organization. Unlike a primary, which involves only voting, an Iowa GOP caucus entails speeches, casting of ballots, party fundraising, and other party business. To do well, a campaign needs to engage in major voter outreach to get supporters to show up on a cold winter night, and devote a fair amount of time. Voter passion matters, but it will take a candidate only so far.

Iowa’s caucuses are only 10 weeks away, and Cain is getting a late start. Still, he’s strong in the polls. The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls in Iowa shows Cain leading among likely Republican caucus-goers with 28 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 23 percent. The latest poll, by CNN, has Cain at 21 and Mr. Romney at 24. If Cain can do well in Iowa, that could open the floodgates of donations and set him up to be a serious contender.

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