Alan Keyes never had it this good.
As black Republican candidates go, Herman Cain has arguably been the most successful in recent memory. The biggest surprise came when he won a Florida straw poll on Sept. 24, beating out the two top contenders, former governor Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
He’s surged in the polls over the last few weeks, and according to one Washington Post/ABC poll of Republicans who have watched the most recent debates, 70 percent say that the more they hear about him, the more they like him. Only 38 percent and 29 percent of voters say the same for Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, respectively.
Analysts say his support is coming from a small but dedicated group: The Tea Party. Tea partiers are having trouble stomaching Romney, or Perry—who despite his attempt to u-turn on immigration is being haunted by his decision to sign the Texas Dream Act of 2001.
A large part of Cain’s appeal is his ability to put voters, particularly those who have been accused of holding racist views, at ease. On Friday, at the conservative Values Voters summit in D.C., Cain’s speech was received with a standing ovation and cheers when he declared in response to a question about anger over racism, "I have achieved all of my American dreams and then some because of the great nation United States of America. What’s there to be angry about? Angry?"
And Cain defines himself in no uncertain terms in his new memoir: "American first, black second, conservative third." But his comments on blackness amount to little more than "work hard." Over the weekend, Cain said in an interview, "I don’t believe racism in this country holds anybody back in a big way."
But his decision to talk about race in such bold terms may hold him back with black voters.
One black conservative writer, Javier E. David, says that Cain "has to walk a tightrope between trying to court African-American voters while retaining his organic base of conservative support." On that measure, David adds, he "has yet to find the right balance."
Cain hasn’t spent any time talking to black media outlets, but black conservatives remain optimistic about his ability to break through.
Crystal Wright, a conservative black blogger, writes, "Cain has the REAL ability to chip away at the 96 percent black vote Obama enjoyed in 2008. Black support for the first black president has plummeted from 83 percent to 58 percent and even if Cain doesn’t win the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, he’s making black liberals reconsider their support of the Democrat party that dismisses them, makes promises of government salvation it doesn’t deliver on and takes their vote for granted every election cycle."