Taking the stage in New Hampshire's first presidential debate of the 2012 election season Monday night, Herman Cain had a lot of momentum going for him. Despite limited name recognition, he's primarily known in the South, Cain has been climbing in the polls and the media is beginning to pay attention.
In this second presidential debate, he found himself on stage with political stalwarts Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, along with a second Governor (Pawlenty), a U.S. Senator (Santorum), and two Representatives from the U.S. Congress. A stark contrast to Cain's lack of any political experience, and when all was said and done, that contrast was very apparent.
Now don't get me wrong, I believe Herman Cain demonstrated that he belongs on the same stage. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO does not strike me as someone who's easily intimidated, but if ever there was a time when you'd expect him to be, last night would have been it. Yet, he seemed very comfortable in his skin as he debated the issues with these seasoned political heavyweights.
After dominating the first presidential debate last month - which did not include Romney and Gingrich, Herman Cain quickly established that he's a skilled communicator. The bar was raised last night and even though he held his own, Cain did not communicate a firm grasp of the issues.
Ironically, the very reason he came up short also proves to be his strongest asset, which he did not take full advantage of last night - that he's a non-politician.
Not that he doesn't have a grasp on the issues. If one were to read between the lines of what he said throughout the evening, you could see that he understood the issues. And more often than not, others on stage filled in the blanks when they referred to his comments. However, what comes natural to his seasoned competition, polished rhetoric and stately prose, largely escaped Cain.
Which is part of the challenge that Cain faces. There's just as strong an anti-incumbent feeling in America today as we saw in 2010, with record numbers having no faith whatsoever in those who currently hold office. This is a sentiment that Cain, the only non-politician in the race, must take full advantage of and press home at every opportunity. Yet, frustratingly, folks will judge him in comparison to the very politicians they condemn.
At the end of the day, perception is reality. Herman Cain has established that he's a strong communicator with equally strong leadership ability and can still prevail in the Republican primary, however, he is going to have to articulate a better understanding of the issues when given the rare opportunity to stand before the American people.
And Cain must always cease the moment to remind America that he is up against politicians that have been in the game for years and never pass up on the opportunity to ask folks, 'how's that working out for you?"