I’ve got a story in the new issue of TIME, now available online to subscribers, about the man of the moment–and perhaps only a moment–in the 2012 Republican primary campaign, Herman Cain. Regardless of whether The Hermanator can actually be nominated, and there’s reason to doubt that, his sudden popularity says something important about the current GOP primary field. Namely, it reminds us that a large and passionate chunk of conservative voters still pine for a candidate who offers something very different than the party’s two anointed front-runners, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. There may now be a growing conventional wisdom that Romney will be the GOP nominee, but about three quarters of Republicans nationally and nearly two-thirds in his best state, New Hampshire, are still not on board.
Of course, it’s still possible that Cain will flame out just as fast as did Michele Bachmann, that mid-summer phenomenon who is now struggling to pay her campaign bills. My story notes some things conservatives may not know about the former Godfather’s pizza CEO, including that he’s not exactly a political newbie: Cain mounted a short run for President in 2000 and lost a U.S. Senate bid in Georgia four years later. His stewardship of the National Restaurant Association in the mid-1990s made him, in effect, the industry’s top lobbyist. As noted at Tuesday night’s debate, he qualifies as a former insider at that bane of the Tea Party, the Federal Reserve.
And a new TIME magazine poll shows that Cain, despite his promise that he can win one-third of the black electorate from Barack Obama, lags further behind the President in a head-to-head match-up than Romney or Perry. (Obama beats Cain 49-37 in our survey, as compared to a 46-43 deficit for Romney. Perry runs about as far behind as Cain however, at 50-38 versus Obama.)
My piece also touches on the fascinating role of black conservatives in the Tea Party movement, an under-explored phenomenon about which I’d love to write an entire story. But Cain doesn’t consider race a significant issue in his campaign: “I know for a fact that a lot of black people are connecting with my solutions, but not because I’m black,” he told me. “More blacks are conservative, but they don’t know it.” Cain argues that his message can bring them around. To see see Cain address the topic of his race, and several others, during my interview with him at TIME’s New York offices last week, watch the video below–or read my story here.