On a whirlwind trip through New York City this week that marked the beginning of nearly a monthlong book tour, Herman Cain chatted with the hosts of ABC’s "The View," promoted his new memoir on Fox News, met local titans like Donald Trump, shared ideas with former Mayor Ed Koch and enjoyed power lunching in Manhattan.
Cain, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, did all but one thing — campaign. Not in the traditional meet-the-public and kiss-the-babies sense, anyway.
And according to his public campaign calendar, where 19 of the 31 days of October are blank, there will not be much glad-handing in the immediate future. That is just fine with the former chief executive, who has recently surged to the top tier of candidates in early polls. The latest Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found former Gov. Mitt Romney and Cain essentially tied within the poll’s margin of sampling error.
"I’m trying to run this campaign like a startup business, which means lean and mean," Cain said in an interview Tuesday, wearing his signature black cowboy hat. "There’s a new sheriff in town!"
This could be Cain’s moment. With Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey taking a pass and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas struggling, the yearning for a candidate who can combine fiery conservative populism with concrete policy proposals has led a growing section of voters to embrace, or at least take a hard look at, Cain.
He has an eclectic, intriguing resume: chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, conservative radio host and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo.
And Cain can stir up a crowd of conservative activists, as his recent victory at a Florida straw poll displayed. After hours of polite applause during the speeches of the other Republican candidates, the audience of several thousand exploded with enthusiasm during Cain’s full-throated critique of U.S. political inaction.
"Throw out all of the current tax code because it is a mess that cannot be fixed. Throw that out!" he said, describing his plans for a flat tax of 9 percent on businesses, personal income and sales. "It provides some certainty to the engine of economic growth, which is a business sector — not the government! Nine, nine, nine!" (The crowd chanted along, "Nine, nine, nine!")
But it is not clear that Cain has any particular plan to seize this moment, beyond using the attention to sell books. Like the other candidates vying to become credible alternatives to Romney and Perry, Cain is operating on a shoestring. He raised $2 million last spring. More money is coming in, he said, and he has 40 staff members, mostly in southern states. Still, an adviser said the campaign had only four people working in Iowa, and there is no plan to change strategy.
Many Republicans doubt this will be enough to launch Cain in the crucial early states, especially if he decides to avoid retail politics.
"No candidate can afford to spend two or three weeks notB being in New Hampshire this year," said Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committee member from the state.B "He has not made as much progress organizing in New Hampshire as he could have, butB there’s time."
When asked why he’d launch a book tour while running for a presidential nomination, Cain said that "the two complement one another" and that the benefits go beyond raising his name recognition among voters — one of his main goals.
"It was a gamble on the part of Simon & Schuster," he said. "They get kudos for believing in me and this campaign. Now they’re going to cash in. That’s the way it works."
The publishing house is not the only beneficiary, of course. So is Cain, whose most recent occupation is that of professional keynote speaker. His fee is $25,000 a speech. He also runs his own leadership consulting company. The two roles continue to play a large part in his daily schedule, which is why his October campaign plans seem so spare, he explained. Cain said there was also a good bit of fundraising happening behind the scenes.
Cain rejected the suggestion that he was not taking the early primary states seriously, saying he had made 28 trips to Iowa since the beginning of the year.
"We have a strong base there and will be going back," he said. "We didn’t have a front-loaded Iowa-New Hampshire strategy. No, we’ve got a multistate strategy, so we’ll get back to Iowa in due time."
And in 2012, a front-loading of primaries in southern states such as South Carolina and Florida might benefit a candidate with a southern focus, like Cain.
If his book tour is in some ways a proxy for a campaign, his strategy appears clear: The tour’s first stop after New York is in the Orlando, Fla., area, followed by signings in Texas, Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee. These are some of the same states where Cain describes his organization as strong.
But he admits to needing a bigger operation. And his director of communications quit last week.
"We are staffing up now because within the last week and a half, our contributions have gone up," he said. "We’ve always had plans to add more staff, but I didn’t want to add them if I couldn’t afford them."
Cain estimated that donations were up ten-fold, "and that might be low now considering what’s happening in the last few days."
The campaign says that 75 percent of donors have contributed $100 or less.
"My mood is a lot better these days because the mainstream media has finally figured out that they’re not going to determine who the top two candidates are," Cain said. "The voters are going to determine that. I wake up in the morning excited and thrilled, and looking forward to the day."
His 222-page book, "This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House," debuted Tuesday and by Wednesday evening was the ninth most popular book as rated by the online retailer Amazon. Cain said it took about three months to finish, with the help of professional writers.
In the book, which is written in the highly enthusiastic style of a motivational manual, replete with many exclamation points (favorite pizza: "Deep dish!"), Cain touches on his career highlights, family and health. (Of his Stage 4 colon and liver cancer: "Cured!")
But he does not drill deeply, spending only a few paragraphs on the untimely death of his brother from complications of drug and alcohol abuse, and that of his father, who died while Cain was at a business reception.
"I just sat there for a few minutes and prayed," he writes. "Then I collected myself and returned to the reception."
The most political parts of the book are the chapters "The Cain Doctrine" and "The Cain Administration: The First Ninety Days." On immigration, abortion and taxes, Cain charts an extremely conservative path that has no surprises. He admits to not having answers about foreign policy.
"I think a president should be briefed on classified intelligence about America’s relationships before offering opinions," he writes.
As president, he would insist that White House personnel have a copy of the Constitution nearby, would be on the lookout for signs that Sharia law is infiltrating U.S. courts, and — perhaps in a true sign of self-confidence — would cut the number of inaugural balls in half.
"Balls are a waste of time!" he said. "That’s why I’m not going to do 18 inaugural balls, I already told my staff. It’s going to be quite an honor to be president of the United States. But I am less concerned about the pomp and circumstance. I don’t need it."