Cain brings struggling campaign to South Florida

Returning to the state that made him a rising star seven weeks ago, Herman Cain stumps this morning in South Florida as a different candidate, nagged by questions about his foreign-policy expertise and his handling of sexual-harassment allegations.

The cumulative effect of the bad news has tolled on Cain, who has dropped from frontrunner to runner up or third place candidate depending on the poll for the Republican presidential race.

But the former businessman and conservative radio show host is still a top-tier candidate. And his trip to South Florida today indicates he wants to stay that way.

Cain makes his first major stop at Versailles Restaurant, a Little Havana nerve center for Miami-Dade’s politically active Cuban-American community, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the county’s 368,000 registered Republicans. Cain will later appear at Wings Plus in Coral Springs and then the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach.

Though the Tampa Bay media market carries the most electoral weight in a GOP primary – followed by Orlando – the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market accounts for about 13 percent of the average vote in the past four Republican primaries. The West Palm Beach media market made up another 9 percent.

South Florida can make a big difference. In 2008, John McCain rolled up an 80,000 vote margin against Mitt Romney, whom he beat by just 96,000 votes statewide.

Cain is the first of the Republican candidate this season to host a multi-city tour in South Florida. He might also attend a conservative rally Friday in Jacksonville and visit Sarasota later in the month.

Florida is fertile ground for Republicans. The unemployment and home-foreclosure rates are stubbornly higher than the nation’s.

With 29 Electoral College votes – more than 10 percent of the total needed to win the White House – Florida is the biggest swing state that President Obama is most likely to lose, according to recent polls.

Cain’s visit comes at a crossroads in his campaign. The last time he made a high-profile trip to Florida was in late September for the Republican Party of Florida’s Presidency 5 debate and straw poll.

Then a cellar-dweller in the polls, Cain soundly defeated his opponents and rocketed to the front of the Republican pack. But then came the allegations that he mistreated women – charges he denies. Since then, Newt Gingrich has risen to frontrunner status in some polls.

“The top has proven to be a dangerous place in this GOP race though and we’ll see if he can sustain it for very long,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, which released a survey this week showing Gingrich garnering 28 percent of the vote, followed by Cain (25 percent) and Mitt Romney (18 percent).

The poll showed the percentage of those Republicans who viewed Cain negatively doubled to 31 percent, while those with a favorable opinion fell by 9 percentage points to 57 percent. A McClatchy-Marist poll Tuesday showed Cain fell to third place. And a Quinnipiac University showed Cain in front, but was hampered by doubts about his honesty when compared to Romney or President Obama.

Cain’s troubles deepened Monday in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel where he struggled with basic questions about Libya. His campaign is also fending off a federal elections complaint alleging that a nonprofit run by Cain’s chief of staff, Mark Block, impermissibly paid for campaign expenses.

Some Republicans were already questioning Cain’s foreign-policy bonafides and were uncomfortable with Cain’s earlier comments that he didn’t know the name of the president of “ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.”

Though the comment was a joke, Cain’s joshing hasn’t always helped him on the campaign trail. But, so far, the Republican electorate is willing to indulge his sense of humor, and many crave his ability to inspire.

The writers of a recent GQ article, as excerpted in Politco, noted that Cain was freewheeling during a pizza lunch with the former CEO of Godfather’s pizza. He said a pie covered in veggies was “sissy pizza” and, when asked to compare Republicans to ice cream, called Michele Bachmann ‘tutti frutti.”

“Within minutes of sitting down, we discovered one reason why Cain is doing so well: No matter how much we try, no matter what blunder or offense pops out of his mouth, it’s awfully hard not to like Herman Cain,” the authors said, according to Politico.

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