What Cain's Exit Means For The Republican Field

Herman Cain quit the presidential primary over the weekend and an Atlanta TV station reports that he may endorse his former rival, Newt Gingrich. NPR's Ken Rudin talks about Cain's decision to quit, and how it will change the primary field.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

Over the weekend, Herman Cain's unlikely bid for the Republican presidential nomination succumbed to stumbles and scandal. He continues to deny all sexual allegations. The businessman's clear economic message and strong debate performances lifted him briefly to the top of some opinion polls. He's expected to endorse one of his former rivals, perhaps as early as today. Political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A even though it's Monday. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And, well, Herman Cain, quite a story, but in the end, an unconventional campaign ended in an unsurprising fashion.

RUDIN: Unsurprising, absolutely. And I think the reason everybody says how could - if you have all this baggage in your past, how can you run for president in this day and age and expect that the media will not uncover it? And I think - I suspected from the beginning is, one, Herman Cain never thought he would take off like this. I think perhaps maybe he wanted to sell some books, make some speeches and use the national debate stage as - for his views. But when you ask him specifics about certain things, about Uzbekybekybekystan and President Obama's views on Libya and things like that, he really seemed very unprepared.

CONAN: And though the campaign caught fire in the opinion polls, it never developed the kind of organizational muscle that you'd expect that a political candidate needs in places like, well, the upcoming caucuses in Iowa.

RUDIN: That's true. And ironically, I mean, they say - he says that he - in middle of November, he said in a six-weeks period, he raised $9 million, which really puts him up there with Romney and the leader of the polls, but he did not spend much of that time in Iowa. It's interesting that the leaders in the polls until recently were Romney - Mitt Romney and Herman Cain in the Iowa caucuses, and neither spent that much time there. And Herman Cain was out selling his book and promoting this or that, but he did touch a nerve. Whether 9-9-9 made economic sense or not, it got a lot of people talking about economic policies, certainly alternatives to President Obama, and other Republicans followed suit with their own plans.

CONAN: We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin. He'll, of course, be with us again on Wednesday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And, Ken, as he withdraws from the race, he's expected - at least according to some reports - to endorse Newt Gingrich when he gets around to making an endorsement. But how does his departure change the dynamic of the Republican presidential primary?

RUDIN: Well, it's hard to make the case that it makes a big difference. You know, if you look at the Iowa polls, just in late October, he was leading or at least tied at the top with Mitt Romney, 23 percent. Back then, Newt Gingrich, who was an afterthought then was 8 percent. Now, those roles have reversed, and Herman Cain has been in a freefall in - regarding all those sexual allegations. And when Ginger White came up and said that she had a 13-year affair with him, and he really didn't have an answer to that. He kept denying, denying, denying.

And, you know, I've got a lot of emails over the last couple of days saying that, well, why did Bill Clinton get off the hook? I mean, he had Gennifer Flowers professing a 13-year affair, 12-year affair in 1992 and - but the thing is, I think, there's a big difference between a consensual affair and sexual harassment. And the fact that the National Restaurant Association paid a lot of money to pay off these women or at least to settle these cases with these women, obviously there's more to than just lies by the liberal media, and that had been Herman Cain's answer for the longest time.

CONAN: And as we look ahead, though, the new Iowa poll is out, and it does show Newt Gingrich apparently picking up a lot of that Cain support.

RUDIN: Yes. And it looks like right now, I mean, we've seen so many alternatives to Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is the only person whose numbers have not really moved that much. He is still the establishment choice, but first, it was Michele Bachmann and then it was Rick Perry, then it was Herman Cain. And now, it's Newt Gingrich as the alternative. Now, I don't know - the thought of - given the fact that the media will love to focus on the foibles of Newt Gingrich and the fact that he's married three times and he had an affair when he was married and blah-blah-blah...

CONAN: And tried to impeach Bill Clinton.

RUDIN: While he was having an affair. And the thought of Herman Cain endorsing Newt Gingrich is not the kind of endorsement you want, and obviously the linkage would have to be there. But having said that, there are fervent supporters of Herman Cain who love the fact that he was anti-politician, that he was not politics as usual, and he represented something that they found - they were not finding in the other candidates.

CONAN: Newt Gingrich at the top of that most recent Iowa poll. Ron Paul in second. Mitt Romney dropping down into third place. And before we let you him go, though, Herman Cain brought new energy to the Republican presidential contest. He campaigned in places that nobody else campaigned. Again, maybe it was a book tour, maybe it wasn't, but places like Alabama and Kentucky...

RUDIN: Tennessee.

CONAN: ...and Tennessee and Wisconsin to his eventual detriment, those places played parts in the early part of the presidential primary that nobody ever expected.

RUDIN: Well, everything that Herman Cain - first of all, they're not - I've looked back - I don't remember any black Republican ever elected president - I mean, I've gone back, you know, decades, and I've never seen one. Look, he's an unusual candidate. He was not the polished Mitt Romney, and we've seen, as we've said, you know, from months now, voters clearly look for somebody who's not the polished ways of Washington that we've seen so far, which is so funny about Newt Gingrich's rise in the polls because in many ways he is a creature of Washington, getting the million-plus from Freddie Mac and doing all this kind of things, and yet, he seems to be the new flavor. So, look, it's a very improbable year. And if anybody was most improbable, it was the candidacy of Herman Cain.

CONAN: A candidacy that ended on Saturday, with Herman Cain's suspension of his campaign. Many campaigns have been suspended, Ken. I don't think any have been revived, but in any case, we'll put the final nail in it on Wednesday on the Political Junkie. We'll see you then.

RUDIN: See you then. Thanks, Neal.

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