The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



Herman Cain campaigns in black and white - Jonathan Martin and Juana Summers -

Herman Cain campaigns in black and white - Jonathan Martin and Juana Summers -

Herman Cain campaigns in black and white

Herman Cain is pictured. | Reuters
'You are looking at the next President of the United States of America,' Cain declared. Close

NEW ORLEANS—Herman Cain insists that race is irrelevant to his presidential bid. He says he wants to be judged on his credentials as a businessman and on his character. The main reason he’s become an early break-out sensation in the GOP race, he explains, is that he “pulls no punches.”

But even as he runs a campaign centered on what he calls a common-sense message and an embrace of conservative orthodoxy, the racial component is ever-present. It’s not necessarily because Cain’s the only nonwhite candidate running for the presidential nomination of an overwhelmingly white party. And it’s not because he’s vying to take on the country’s first black president.

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Rather, it’s because Cain, himself, places the issue front and center.

A former Godfather’s Pizza CEO who became an Atlanta-based talk radio host after leaving the business world, it’s clear Cain hasn’t entirely discarded his role as conservative provocateur.

Beginning his Republican Leadership Conference speech here Friday afternoon, he invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech to knowing laughs and applause from the audience.

“I have a dream,” Cain said, before predicting that Republicans would gain full control of Congress next year. “I’ve got another dream for 2012. And that dream is: You are looking at the next president of the United States of America. Look at me.”

At the end of his announcement speech in Atlanta last month, Cain remarked that when he is elected president America would be able to say, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, America is free at last.”

His racial rhetoric is of a kind that voters are unaccustomed to—and it delights his largely conservative white audiences.

“You will get called racist simply because you happen to disagree with a president who happens to be black,” he said at CPAC earlier this year. “You are not racists! You are patriots because you are willing to stand up for what you believe in!”

Cain is defiant, regularly trampling on sensitivities and offering scorching rejections of political correctness. He says things that few white Republicans would dare voice — even if they believe them to be true.

“The race card is going to be played a lot [in the campaign] because it has been played a lot for the first two-and-a-half years of this presidency,” Cain said to reporters Friday at the RLC. “Every time somebody disagrees with the president, one of his surrogates want[s] to play the race card. Well, if the policies aren’t working, that’s not racial, that’s just simply a failed policy.”

“I’m running as a Republican, let’s make no mistake about that,” he explained, seemingly unnecessarily, to reporters and a few conservative activists at the press availability, following his speech. Then he picked up a line he often uses on the stump.

“I guess because I’m black somebody thought I was going to run as a Democrat — I don’t think so,” said Cain as the Republicans in the room smiled and nodded. “I left that plantation a long time [ag0] and I ain’t going back. Yeah, you can quote me, and I’m going to get a lot of hate mail, and I’m going to get a lot of bloggers all over me. I does not care, as my grandfather would say.”

In a 20-minute interview Friday, Cain went so far as to distance himself from the term African-American.

“I label myself: American black conservative,” he said. “Deal with it.”

His provocative remarks and cavalier approach toward one of the most sensitive issues in American public life are part and parcel of a campaign that dispenses with many of the conventions of running for president.