Herman Cain under the gun in tonight's CNN-Las Vegas debate

The reason isn't that beyond his signature 9-9-9 plan it isn't certain how strong his positions are other domestic or international issues - it's whether he's serious about getting up to speed on them.

The fact that Cain is doing so well this far into the Republican race (tonight is the 8th debate of the season) is not only surprising to most of the political world, but it seems like it is to Cain himself.

Though reportedly now raising a decent amount of money, Cain has been criticized for spending time in states that won't be voting early next year- such as Tennessee, as part of his national book tour. Those critics say it's about Cain, the brand, not Cain, the potential next president.

Cain has consistently been shaky on foreign policy in televised interviews, but he's never been challenged much on that during these debates. That should change tonight - because as the perceived co-front runner, Cain needs to be asked a lot of questions, certainly more than will be asked of say, Rick Santorum.

And what about his organization? You need some to win. Even his fiercest critics will say that Barack Obama ran one of the great campaigns in history. So does Cain have much of an organization? Check out what Politico says about Herman's "boots on the ground" in New Hampshire and Iowa:

But Cain, at least until very recently, has had only the slightest whiff of an infrastructure. His New Hampshire director, Charlie Spano, has never before been paid to work in a campaign. Spano, a retired teacher who was the assistant manager for the local U.S. Census office in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., volunteered for John McCain in 2008 and Pat Toomey in 2010. In June he was appointed an alternate to his local zoning board, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Spano said Cain’s New Hampshire operation is “exercising a vigorous grass-roots effort. We’re building an organization with individuals both prominent and committed who are getting on the Cain train. There are several more New Hampshire state representatives who will be coming out and endorsing Mr. Cain soon.”

Spano said there is one other paid Cain New Hampshire staffer. Asked who it is, he replied: “I’m not at liberty to say right now.”

And while there is significant enthusiasm for Cain in Iowa, that has yet to translate to a substantial campaign infrastructure in the state, said Jeff Jorgensen, the Pottawatamie County GOP chairman and Cain’s highest-profile endorser in the state.

“There has been attempts earlier when he was out here in Iowa to solicit volunteers, to get people to sign up on his volunteer list,” Jorgensen said. “He hasn’t been in Iowa for quite a while, so that effort has kinda died down.”

Jorgensen said he’s tried to put Cain in touch with Iowans who can serve as policy experts, but his efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

I have to admit to eating crow when I wrote earlier this year that the Florida Presidency 5 straw poll was being excessively hyped by Florida Republicans, such as Rick Scott, who boasted that the winner would be the next POTUS.

It's far too early to conclude the wisdom of that remark, but the fact is just a few thousand people who participated in that straw poll. And of those who did, Cain received 37 percent of the vote, which has been the single biggest event that has catapulted him to his current status. Yes, he has performed well in debates, and is a terrific speaker. But he was never taken seriously until he won the Florida straw poll.

But Cain has gotten away with a lot of sloppy rhetoric in a way that Romney and Rick Perry haven't been. His absurd and callous comments about an electrified fence on the border that would essentially fry Mexicans cross illegally has been dismissed by the media as a joke because Cain said so on Sunday- the problem is, he's made that remark several times this year- which means he either thinks it's funny, or that he's really serious. Or that he hasn't thought hard enough about it at all, but it gets a good buzz in live speeches.

Early on in the campaign season, Cain received notice for some of his provocative comments about Muslims and Sharia law (which he still stands by).

But his remarks have been a hit with the most powerful part of the Republican Party in 2011, the Tea Party. From the CNN poll:

"Republicans who support the tea party movement love Herman Cain - he gets support from 39% of them, more than double the number who support Mitt Romney," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Republicans who say they are neutral toward the tea party back Romney by roughly the same margin — 35% of them favor Romney compared to just 14% for Cain

We look forward to seeing how "The Herminator" reacts to the scrutiny that comes with being the new (co) front-runner.


If you watched Herman Cain's performance on Meet The Press last Sunday and are an undecided Republican voter, we're not certain if you would feel more or less enthused about the new co-front runner (a new CNN survey has Cain just one percentage point behind the man still considered to be the inevitable front runner, Mitt Romney).

Actually if you're an undecided Republican voter, you're in the majority. That same CNN poll shows that only 1/3rd of those polled actually have a candidate at this point.

But the bigger question that hopefully the moderators of tonight's CNN televised debate from Las Vegas (8 p.m. EST) is one posed by Politico today: How serious is Herman Cain about really becoming President?

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