A Look Back at Herman Cain's 2012 Presidential Campaign: a Rapid Rise and Rapid Fall

"He makes more sense than anybody else," one voter said — before Cain's campaign crumbled amid harassment allegations and other problems

Two presidential campaign cycles ago, some conservative voters saw Herman Cain as "something different."

The unlikely and ultimately unsuccessful former GOP candidate — thrust to the front of the pack for a brief time in late 2011 while seeking the Republican presidential nomination — died this week from coronavirus complications.

Cain was a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, and their political careers have some parallels, a few years apart.

The New Yorker's obituary Thursday read: "Herman Cain, a Man Who Paved the Way for Donald Trump." (Cain had also attended a Trump event in June, without a mask, before he was hospitalized with COVID-19 — though his team said he could have been infected during other travels and was not a coronavirus denier.)

The food executive and radio host-turned-politician had long been active in Washington, D.C., just outside of the national spotlight.

A decade after first making waves challenging President Bill Clinton over health care legislation at a town hall, he unsuccessfully ran for a Georgia Senate seat.

He'd also served as a senior adviser for Republican candidate Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign and became the CEO of the National Restaurant Association that same year. Cain was a “regular presence in the halls of Congress,” according to The Washington Post.

But in May 2011, when Cain announced his long shot-bid to win the Republican nomination and take on President Barack Obama in 2012, some voters saw him as anything but regular.

Cain's folksy — verging on goofy — demeanor, modest upbringing and successful business career was tantalizing for prospective voters.

“He makes more sense than anybody else,” Robert Owens Owens, a 63-year-old retired Florida truck driver, told the Post in 2011. “And it’s just time for something different.”

Herman Cain
Herman Cain in November 2011. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty
Herman Cain
Herman Cain in December 2011, announcing he was leaving the 2012 presidential race. Chris Rank/Corbis via Getty

Cain unexpectedly rose to the top of Republican polls for a few weeks in the fall of 2011, fueled in part by fiery performances in televised debates, which helped him stand out among a large field of candidates vying to run against Obama, the Democratic incumbent.

The New York Times wrote in 2011 that "with his golden voice and folksy manner, Mr. Cain appealed to voters who sought an anti-establishment candidate."

In a year which Republican candidates focused heavily on the economy, Cain ran his campaign on a sloganeering "9-9-9" tax plan and showcased his social conservatism through his colloquial speech.

But Cain's relaxed demeanor also contributed to his rapid downfall in the back half of 2011.

He fumbled to answer questions about foreign policy and he made a string of controversial comments about Muslims midway through the year, arguing that it's "not discriminating based upon religion" for a community to ban local mosques and saying he "would not" appoint a person of the Muslim faith to his cabinet if elected.

(Cain later apologized and said he would not appoint a "jihadist" to his cabinet.)

He also faced accusations from campaign workers and political analysts about his intentions, with some arguing he was only running for president to raise his public profile. The candidate released an autobiography, This Is Herman Cain!, in October 2011.

“All I can say is they are dead wrong,” he told the Post that year. “And they don’t know Herman Cain. Anybody that knows me knows I would not do something like this to self-promote.”

Herman Cain
Herman Cain in 2012. Carlos Osorio/AP/Shutterstock
Herman Cain
Herman Cain. Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

Cain's standing crumbled in November and December 2011, when multiple women went public with allegations he sexually harassed them. (Cain denied the accusations; though two women who had previously accused him were reportedly given settlements.)

He appeared determined to continue his campaign despite the allegations when another woman, Ginger White, came forward and said she and the candidate had been having an affair for 13 years.

Cain, married to wife Gloria since 1968, denied that allegation as well, despite White providing phone records to media outlets to show their frequent contact and her further allegation that the candidate had financially supported her for years.

Instead he described his relationship with White as a "friendship," according to reports. Cain said then he had given White money for "month-to-month bills and expenses" and that Gloria did not know about their relationship.

"My wife now knows," Cain said in 2011. "My wife and I have talked about it and I have explained it to her. My wife understands that I'm a soft-hearted, giving person."

Gloria stood by her husband as he announced he was suspending his presidential campaign in December of that year.

“As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign,” Cain announced at an event in Atlanta, according to the Times. “Because of the continued distractions, the continued hurt caused on me and my family, not because we are not fighters. Not because I’m not a fighter.”

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