Dec 052011
 
Authors: Marc Caputo McClatchy Tribune

MIAMI — A new political race has begun: The Herman Cain primary.

The implosion of the one-time Republican presidential frontrunner’s campaign leaves his supporters— and his political organization — up for grabs.

Right now, national and Florida polls show that Newt Gingrich is benefitting most. He’s also trying to pick up some of Cain’s campaign team.

But nothing’s certain in a race where there have already been five frontrunners.

“If I had to vote today, I’d vote for Ron Paul,” said Francisco Gonzalez, a Tallahassee Republican who was part of the conservative tide that elevated Cain to top-tier status in the Republican Party of Florida’s Presidency 5 straw poll in September.

The sense of enthusiasm and inspiration is long gone for Cain supporters like Gonzalez, who said he feels “disillusionment with the entire electoral process.”

Many Cain supporters say the news media was unfair to Cain. Many say Cain’s campaign failed him. Some acknowledge that Cain bears much of the blame for the end of his campaign last week after a string of sexual-misconduct allegations.

Regardless, their candidate is gone. And they’re left with a sense that they have to settle on a second choice.

At this early stage, it’s unclear if the disappointment will have any effect on the party.

Most insiders think Mitt Romney will win because of his money and the strength of his campaign organization. But poll after poll suggest that Republican voters don’t want Romney, even though he does best against President Barack Obama in a theoretical matchup.

Still, recent polls show that Democrats are less enthusiastic than Republicans about voting, and Obama is considered vulnerable because of the bad economy.

Patricia Sullivan, a Lake County, Fla., tea party organizer who was part of Cain’s campaign, said the candidate left a legacy that spoke to the power of the grassroots.

“What I’m doing is I’m taking a step back and I’m reassessing what I want from a candidate,” she said. “Because what I wanted I can’t have. I wanted a champion for the people.”

When asked who was definitely off her list, Sullivan listed Romney, Paul, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann. That leaves Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Gingrich.

Gingrich’s campaign resembles Cain’s in the early days of his front-runner status: He doesn’t appear to have a real campaign. Like Cain, Gingrich pulls double duty on the campaign trail by selling his books. Gingrich has excelled during the multiple debates.

Also, like Cain, Gingrich has been associated with extramarital affairs. But Gingrich has acknowledged it on the campaign trail — Cain still denies any wrongdoing — and has tried to fashion his faults as a tale of redemption. Some social conservatives, like Gonzalez, say Gingrich’s infidelity is too serious to forgive politically.

Like many of Cain’s supporters, Republican strategist Adam Goodman said he’s in a wait-and-see mode. State Rep. Scott Plakon, the first member of the Florida Legislature to endorse Cain, said he, too, is taking his time.

But time is running out. The Iowa caucuses begin Jan.3. The Florida primary is Jan. 31.

Blogger and campaign operative Sarah Rumpf had planned to stick with Perry until he fell apart during the Florida Republican straw poll and debate in September. She then went with Cain. Today, she sounds as if she’s leaning toward Gingrich.

“I want somebody who gets that there are problems — and is angry about it — but still has an optimistic message,” she said. “Michele Bachmann and Santorum sound too negative and crazy all the time. Huntsman doesn’t sound like he’s really upset about anything.”

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