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Five reasons the GOP race is so unsettled

Among the Republican candidates, Mitt Romney has emerged as the early front-runner. Yet the field remains as uncertain as any in modern times – can any of them beat Obama?

By / Staff writer / June 13, 2011

This is the cover story of the June 20 weekly edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

Laura Smith/John Kehe illustration

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Hampstead, N.H.

Herman Cain strides into the BeanTowne Coffee House in Hampstead, N.H., on Memorial Day morning, staffers in tow. The presidential contender – a tea party favorite and the only African-American in the Republican primary race – had advertised his visit, and folks are eager to shake his hand, snap a picture, and ask him a question or two.

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"Is America Ready?" read the Cain buttons some are wearing.

"Ready for what?" I wonder. So I ask the candidate.

Mr. Cain, the former chief executive officer of Godfather's Pizza and a former talk radio host, has a ready answer, delivered with a hearty laugh: "for real problem solving and real leadership, which means the real Herman Cain. But if you ain't ready for leadership and you ain't ready for real problem solving, you ain't ready for Herman Cain!"

Cain is tall, bluff, and well-dressed, and it's not hard to see why he is catching on with some Republican voters, who like his private-sector success.

A 29-person focus group led by GOP strategist Frank Luntz deemed Cain the hands-down winner of the May 5 GOP debate in South Carolina. And he's shot up to second place in Iowa, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and is tied at 15 percent with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the latest survey by Public Policy Polling (PPP).

But Cain remains the longest of long shots for the 2012 Republican nomination. He has never been elected to public office, and admits he knows little about foreign policy. "I don't pretend to know everything," he told the BeanTowne crowd, promising that a President Cain would surround himself with "the right people."

It would be easy to dismiss Cain outright, but in this oddball campaign cycle, anything is possible, it seems. The Republican field is forming slowly and in fits and starts, at times masquerading as a three-ring circus. Billionaire Donald Trump became a P.T. Barnum; smoked out President Obama's long-form birth certificate; then said, nah, I like making money better. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign has imploded with the resignation of his top aides. Several potentially strong contenders have taken a pass – though one, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, is now saying, well, maybe. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani may also jump in. He'll let us know by the end of the summer.

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