Herman Cain, the surging presidential candidate, stops to sell a few books

Herman Cain signs books Wednesday at the Barnes & Noble in St. Petersburg. His book, This is Herman Cain!, was released Tuesday. He and at least one buyer say this event was even more effective than a campaign speech.

LARA CERRI | Times

Herman Cain signs books Wednesday at the Barnes & Noble in St. Petersburg. His book, This is Herman Cain!, was released Tuesday. He and at least one buyer say this event was even more effective than a campaign speech.

ST. PETERSBURG

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain returned to Florida on Wednesday, riding a wave of momentum created by his upset victory in Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll and the result of three new polls that suggest Cain is poised to be the conservative foil to Mitt Romney.

The question is: Can it last?

"Cain supporters don't defect," Cain said in an interview on his campaign bus. "They're not looking for the flavor of the week. They've found Häagen-Dazs."

Cain's rapid rise — he is tied with Romney, according to a new CBS News poll — shows how unsettled the 2012 GOP field remains, as conservative voters continue to feel out candidates.

It also puts a sharper focus on Cain, who until now has been largely ignored and cast in the race as not much more than a former pizza chain executive with a gimmicky tax plan.

On Wednesday, questions centered around Cain's two stops in Florida — which were part of a book tour, not campaign events.

Cain hawked $25 copies of This is Herman Cain!: My Journey to the White House to about 300 people at The Villages in Central Florida and then to another 300 people at a Barnes & Noble in St. Petersburg.

The book, released Tuesday, is already No. 9 among Amazon.com's top sellers.

But the book tour, which started in Georgia and continues in Texas today and Virginia on Friday, comes at a strange time, given Cain's recent surge and serves as an awkward contrast to other presidential contenders.

Romney, for example, was in Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday holding a town hall with Republican voters at The Villages and spending time in Tallahassee meeting voters, legislators and Gov. Rick Scott.

"They don't know my schedule. They don't know my strategy," said Cain, 65. "The perception that we're not campaigning is ridiculous."

Supporters who crammed between Barnes & Noble's travel and Japanese comic sections hoping to meet Cain didn't seem to mind.

"This is just as effective," said Tom Davis, 48, of St. Petersburg. "At campaign stops, you don't always get to shake a hand. Sometimes that's better than just a speech."

State Rep. Scott Plakon, a supporter who traveled with Cain, said that the book tour was scheduled when Cain was polling at 5 percent and that it would have been wrong for Cain to cancel.

"If you're 5 percent in the polls, this a great idea," said Plakon, a Longwood Republican. "But I think it works now, too. He's getting votes as we speak."

On the trail, Cain is largely benefiting from the stumbles of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose poor debate performances and moderate-sounding answers on immigration policy have allowed Cain to gain traction.

Cain is tied with Romney atop a new CBS News poll at 17 percent and sits second in additional polls from the Washington Post/ABC News and Quinnipiac University.

All released in the last week, the polls show the same thing: Cain surging, Romney treading water and Perry losing massive ground.

The decisions this week of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin not to run for president mean primary voters will start to size up the current candidates even more.

That could be good or bad for Cain, who has run on a series of specific platforms, including a plan to replace the complex current tax system with a 9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent business tax and a 9 percent national sales tax.

"A big question now is whether Herman Cain is a serious candidate for the nomination. He has zoomed into second place ahead of Perry. Once the attention shifts from the stillborn Christie candidacy, it is likely to focus on Cain, his background and proposals," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Cain, who has yet to release his third-quarter fundraising numbers, said that he plans to open two Florida campaign offices in the coming weeks — with one in the I-4 corridor — and that he will have the money for "targeted" television advertisements in the state.

He says he won't have the resources financially to match Romney and Perry in Florida — where television advertising is typically critical. But the former Godfather's Pizza CEO is used to the challenge, he said.

"When I was at Godfather's we weren't the biggest pizza company. We were about No. 5," Cain said. "But we still won."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com.

Perry raises $17M

Republican presidential contender Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, raised more than $17 million in his first seven weeks running for president. GOP opponent Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who is a favorite of libertarians, brought in $8 million. Of the rest of the GOP field, only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was expected to come close to either of those totals for the three-month fundraising quarter that ended Sept. 30; Romney is expected to raise less than the $18 million he brought in during his first three-month fundraising period.

Associated Press

Herman Cain, the surging presidential candidate, stops to sell a few books 10/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 12:29am]

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