Former candidate and Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain made a surprise endorsement of candidate Newt Gingrich tonight at the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee Lincoln Day Dinner in West Palm Beach, Florida; according to The Shark Tank.
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Cain, who ended his presidential bid among allegations of infidelity on December 3, 2011; has kept up his public profile, keeping voters and pundits guessing as to who he will endorse, and when.
In a recent interview with conservative radio and television host Sean Hannity, Cain hinted that he will be endorsing a candidate soon, though it would come as a surprise and will be “unconventional.”
Meanwhile the Gingrich campaign and dinner organizers also gave the media hints to expect a big surprise endorsement at the dinner.
According to Chris Moody of Yahoo’s The Ticket, Cain told attendees:
“I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States! One of the biggest reasons is the fact that I know that Speaker Gingrich is a patriot, Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas and I also know that Speaker Gingrich is running for president and going through this sausage grinder. I know what this sausage grinder is all about.”
Herman Cain left the presidential race after being accused of sexual harassment by numerous women who served under him while head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990’s. Although, never admitting guilt, Cain was unable to credibly rebut the claims against him, and saw his lead in national polls quickly slip away. He cited the pain that the accusations were causing his wife and family as the main reason for his decision.
Cain appealed to many conservative voters because of his relationship with the Tea Party movement and his successful business career. He saw a surge in the polls primarily because of his innovative 9-9-9 tax plan; resonating with voters because of its simple, fair and innovative structure; besides its easily remembered handle. Mitt Romney, also a businessman, was edged out by Cain – because unlike Romney, who made his money in investment markets – Cain had a “main street” business background that appealed to small business owners having once revitalized the struggling Godfather’s Pizza chain from the ground up.
Significantly, Cain’s rise began in the state of Florida, then spilling over into South Carolina before becoming the national frontrunner. This endorsement comes at a critical time for Gingrich, who is looking to regain momentum after two undistinguished debate performances. Moreover, latest poll results show Romney’s newly acquired offensive strategy against Gingrich is paying off.
With this endorsement, Gingrich can now claim some economic credibility and a chance to absorb supporters whose value of a business experience moved them toward an uneasy support of Romney. Gingrich may also gain the few voters still left who are undecided by the exit of other candidates.
Unfortunately, Cain’s endorsement may have come too late to impact the race as much as he and Gingrich would like. Most Cain supporters had already gone to Gingrich and the other “not-Romneys” anyway. With no more debates left before the Florida primary, Gingrich also finds himself lacking the best medium to trumpet and contextualize this endorsement to the largest audience; moreover, network news coverage will be very limited since most weekend time-slots are already occupied by pre-recorded shows, making them inflexible to breaking news. Whether Gingrich could capitalize on this endorsement with so little time before the primary is uncertain, unless, of course, Monday’s media barrage to follow provides him with the exposure he missed during last week’s debates.
Follow Dmitriy Shapiro on Twitter @dmitriyshapiro