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Herman Cain: GOP debate winner?

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather Pizza, has emerged as the popular favorite after Thursday evening's Republican presidential debate – among the focus group who watched it, anyway.

By Staff writer / May 6, 2011

Herman Cain takes the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, in this February 11 file photo. A handful of Republican presidential candidates – not including the highest-profile contenders – touted their conservative credentials and vied for a shot at the US political spotlight on Thursday, during the first debate of the 2012 White House campaign. Herman Cain emerged as the popular favorite of the evening.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters / File

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Herman Who?

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Going into the first Republican debate of the 2012 election season Thursday, most voters didn’t know much if anything about contender Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather Pizza and political activist.

Coming out, Mr. Cain was the winner, at least according to a focus group of 29 GOP voters conducted by Republican strategist Frank Luntz in Charleston, S.C.

“How many of you thought Herman Cain won the debate?” Mr. Luntz asked right after its conclusion. Nearly all the hands went up. “Well, we can stop right there,” Luntz said.

Going around the room, Luntz got quick takes on Cain: “Most direct,” said one man. “A breath of fresh air,” said another. “Common sense,” said a woman.

“He talked exactly correctly on taxation and on free markets and leadership,” said another man.

Only one person said they came into the focus group with Cain as their No. 1 choice for Republican nominee. After the debate, a majority stated Cain is now their top choice. “Now, this is unprecedented,” Luntz said.

Cain’s statement on the role of government in job creation got the most positive reaction among focus group attendees of anything any of the five candidates said, according to Luntz.

During the Greenville, S.C., debate, Fox News commentator Juan Williams asked Cain about a labor controversy in South Carolina. Boeing is doing battle with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the location of a new plant there, allegedly in part to take advantage of the state’s anti-union laws.

“Mr. Cain, does the GOP risk the perception it's becoming the union-busting party?” Mr. Williams asked.

Cain expressed outrage over the actions of the NLRB.

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