Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain: Two GOP Truth Tellers

Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain: Two GOP Truth Tellers
by Tony Lee

Businessman Herman Cain and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty have been the two hardest-working candidates this cycle. They have attended numerous events in the early primary states, have shown up at cattle calls and hit the rubber-chicken circuit from New Hampshire to Iowa, even to Arizona. Both candidates have given interviews to big-name reporters and lesser-known bloggers alike.

They have to do so because neither has the star power nor name recognition of a Sarah Palin or a Donald Trump nor the deep pockets of a Mitt Romney.

Cain and Pawlenty officially announced their candidacy for President last week. And while Pawlenty and Cain are polar opposites in many ways, one could argue that if you combined their strengths and weaknesses you would come up with the perfect candidate. Both are busily trying to improve their name identification among the largely undecided GOP electorate.

Pawlenty must also convince voters that he is bold and not just “Mr. Nice Guy.” Cain has plenty of sizzle and the outsider status that is coveted by many in this anti-establishment cycle, but his challenge as an outsider is to convince voters that he has enough substance to become the nation’s chief executive.

The first week on the campaign trail as officially announced candidates perfectly encapsulated the strengths and weaknesses of Cain and Pawlenty in addition to illustrating the challenges and opportunities they will face in the upcoming campaign season.

Cain announced his candidacy before a crowd of more than 12,000 people in Atlanta, Ga. He talked about his humble beginnings as the son of a domestic worker, how he turned around multiple businesses that had been failing and how he, a black American, wonders if he is a racist for opposing President Barack Obama. He delivered a nearly 30-minute speech without notes while wearing a pair of transition-lens glasses that turned dark to make it look like he was sporting a cool pair of sunglasses.

When voters familiarize themselves with Cain, as did voters in South Carolina after the first primary debate, they seem to like his message.

In fact, according to Gallup, Cain “has the highest Positive Intensity Score among Republicans of any potential GOP candidate still in the race” and his “intensity Score of 27 matches the highest yet recorded for any candidate or potential candidate this year.”

The same survey, though, found that “Cain’s name recognition among Republicans remains quite low. At 33%, it’s better than only Gary Johnson’s 20% and Jon Huntsman’s 27%, but has climbed 12 points since March.

Part of the reason Cain appeals to voters is that voters think he is an honest citizen and not an unctuous, conniving, poll-tested politician.

This was made evident this week.

After a largely panned interview on “Fox News Sunday” during which Cain seemed to have no clue what the Palestinian “right of return” issue involves, Cain went on “Hannity” the next day and admitted that he had not known what the issue was, but now has learned about it and familiarized himself with it.

Most politicians would have responded to the flub with a poll-tested, incredible answer, but Cain simply told the truth and turned a negative (doubts about his substance on foreign policy issues) into a positive and won back the news cycle and public respect.

Pawlenty, lacking Cain’s sizzle and soul, also took up the truth-telling mantle with bold policy prescriptions.

“Conventional wisdom says you can’t talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street,” Pawlenty said during his campaign announcement speech in Iowa. “In my campaign, I’m going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth. The truth is: Washington’s broken.”

In a bold move in a state where politicians pander to the ethanol lobby and joke about taking shots of ethanol, Pawlenty said he was here to tell “Iowans the truth, too.”

And he boldly did.

“The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out,” Pawlenty said. “We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.”

Influential conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called Pawlenty’s stance on ethanol a move that was “politically gutsy.”

Pawlenty did not try to be someone else during his announcement speech. He was not gimmicky. He does not seem to be a screamer, by nature, and his past attempts at that have failed, so he kept to a pitch fitting for the hearty Midwesterner that he is.

Now that Mitch Daniels is not running, many in the establishment are putting their bets on Pawlenty.

While he has the savviest new media team giving him the best online tools and toys, Pawlenty’s challenge going forward will be convincing voters–and donors—that he is bold enough to take on President Obama.

To do so, he may be wise to allow his policy proposals to do the talking for him.

To read another article from the Herman Cain thread, click here.

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