ORLANDO, Fla. — Not everyone needs to go to Disney World to have fun in central Florida.
After one of Herman Cain’s strongest showings yet at a Republican presidential debate Thursday, and two days with conservative activists in the state, he won the “Presidency 5” straw poll in Orlando over the weekend, beating Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the front-runner in the primary race, by more than 20 points.
While straw polls are not scientific and their results can be poor indicators of whether a candidate will win a party’s nomination — the latest actual Florida poll put Cain near the bottom — they can help spark some momentum, especially for lower-tier candidates. For Cain, a 65-year-old businessman, mathematician, author and radio host from Atlanta, Georgia, his straw poll win could well be the high-water mark of his campaign. And by his own admission, the path that brought him this far wasn’t an easy one. The morning before the straw poll, I met Cain for coffee in a hotel near the convention center that hosted the debate and straw poll. As we discussed the early phase of the Republican primaries, he told me that before coming to Florida, he had nearly called it quits on two occasions.
“I’m bored if I don’t have a challenge,” he said.
Cain said the run for the White House is his toughest challenge yet — and it’s been anything but boring. Despite the frustrations of running a national campaign, you can tell he’s enjoying it. But it doesn’t take much to get him riled up.
After a few caffeine-heavy refills at our corner table, I asked him about President Obama’s new effort to raise taxes on the wealthy, and Cain just about blew a blood vessel — especially when I mentioned the part where Obama says it’s about “math” not “class warfare.”
“Can I be blunt? That’s a lie,” Cain said, before the sound of his voice began to rise noticeably higher. “You’re not supposed to call the president a liar. Well if you’re not supposed to call the president a liar, he shouldn’t tell a lie. If it’s not class warfare, it’s highway robbery. He wants us to believe it’s not class warfare, oh okay, it’s not class warfare. Pick my pockets, because that’s what he’s doing!”
Cain paused, took a breath and looked at me.
“I’m not mad at you, I just get passionate about this stuff,” he said. “I have to tell people because I get so worked up. . . . I’m listening to all this bullshit that he’s talking about, ‘fairness’ and ‘balanced approach’ to get this economy going.”