Cain's life story reads like a tale of Horatio Alger, an award he won in 1996.
Raised in Atlanta, Cain's father chauffeured Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff. Unable to attend the University of Georgia because he was black, Cain's family paid for Morehouse College through stock received from Woodruff. The young Cain’s mathematical prowess earned him a math degree from Morehouse College. He followed that up with a master's in computer science from Purdue and after a stint in the Navy, he began an illustrious business career that included time at The Coca-Cola Co. and Pillsbury. While at Pillsbury, he took two struggling units -- Burger King and Godfather's Pizza -- and remade them into powerhouses within their own sectors. He served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City during the mid-1990s. Around that same time, Cain became a senior advisor to the Dole-Kemp presidential campaign. He's a stage four liver and colon cancer survivor.
Cain's ability to listen to everyday people as well as overcome personal and business challenges have drawn people like Dunwoody resident Mary Wargula and her daughter Megan of Woodstock. Megan and her husband have struggled to overcome some economic challenges of their own in the last year. She told Cain as he signed his book for her : "Tell Obama about the underemployed." To which Cain replied: "I will. There's a lot of them."
His gift of gab has earned him a following as a radio host and has likely served him well as a minister. It's also gotten him into trouble. But he is gaining more support along the way.
"People like what he’s saying," said veteran Republican strategist Tom Perdue. "He’s recovered from his earlier fumbles and now it's going to simply be a matter of whether he can turn this into fundraising both short-term and long -term. If he can, he's a serious candidate."
Cain, 65, grew up in Georgia and graduated from Morehouse College. He became a turnaround artist, rescuing the Burger King outlets of Philadelphia. From there, he went to Omaha, where in 1986 he took over and stabilized Godfather’s Pizza with clever advertising and aggressive downsizing.
By the early 1990s, Cain had started to transition out of day-to-day management at Godfathers and delve into politics. In 1992, he was appointed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. In 1994, he became head of the National Restaurant Association, a post he held for five years.
In 1994, in his first memorable political moment, Cain confronted President Bill Clinton at an Omaha town-hall meeting over health-care policy, a tete-a-tete that attracted the notice of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp. Kemp recruited Cain for a congressional study group on tax reform.
Cain left Godfather’s in 1996 and devoted himself to politics, with less impressive results.
He ran for president in 2000, but dropped out early in the race. In 2004, Cain ran for the U.S. Senate from Georgia, finishing a distant second in the GOP primary.
But despite his lack of political success, he managed to attract the notice of a radio executive with his rich, booming voice. His campaign manager became his producer. He trademarked the expression “The Hermanator Experience.”
“What I like about him is his directness, but also his background,” said Florida Republican William Diamond of Cain’s pre-straw poll speech. “To be a black man born during segregation and then to have this great American success story.”
The quality that makes the Republican a popular radio host and tea party favorite, is the same quality that will make Cain’s path to the nomination incredibly more difficult: Cain speaks his mind.
Just this weekend, he called President Obama’s economic policy “bull$&!#.” He’s said that Planned Parenthood was formed to “help kill black babies.” He’s had to clarify statements that communities should have the right to ban mosques and that he would not be comfortable with a Muslim in his Cabinet.
He’s a hard-liner on social issues and immigration and supports huge cuts to the federal government — policies that might captivate conservative straw-poll voters but won’t lure a wide swath of voters.
Margi Helschien, a Republican from Palm Beach County, was impressed by Cain’s speech. “This was the wow factor we had been waiting for,” she said.
Just as he has a knack for clever advertising, Cain can create a catchy slogan — for example, his “9 9 9” economic plan, which would institute a flat 9 percent tax on corporate income, personal income and sales receipts. He’s also promoted what he calls “the Chilean model” for Social Security (a mostly privatized system).