ATLANTA — Reveling in the national spotlight, Herman Cain is pledging to bolster his fledgling White House campaign.
He'll need to — and quickly — if he has any hope of winning the Republican nomination. The unlikely presidential contender has little campaign organization in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states where voting begins in less than three months. And he hasn't done much else in those places to capitalize on his recent surge in polls.
"We are now going to ramp up," Cain promised this week.
By that he means executing what aides call a 50-state strategy — for a nomination contest that's determined state by state. It's a nontraditional path that other candidates have tried unsuccessfully. Cain's campaign, which can seem almost overwhelmed by the attention that comes with a big rise in polls, argues that competing in the early voting states, while important, is not the only way to win the party's nomination.
His aides note that Barack Obama's 2008 campaign fanned out across the country and was successful. But Obama competed vigorously in the early voting states, too.
Still, Cain, who never has held political office, clearly has struck a chord with a part of the Republican electorate craving a fresh face not tied to the GOP establishment. This is the first presidential contest since the tea party's rise, and Cain is in many ways the natural culmination of the grass-roots movement: a straight-talking political outsider, espousing an anti-tax platform.
"The conservative wing of the Republican Party has been auditioning for an anti-Romney alternative for months now," former GOP strategist Dan Schnur said. "They've tried Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, and they both wilted under the scrutiny. So far, Herman Cain seems to be holding his own."
Atlanta Tea Party Patriots co-founder Debbie Dooley explains it this way: "With Herman, what you see is what you get."
There's no telling how long the love for Cain will last or whether he can turn the buzz into votes on primary and caucus nights this winter. It takes more than enthusiasm to win the presidency. It takes money and organization, and Cain trails his top GOP rivals on both fronts.
Earlier this year, Cain had to lend his campaign $500,000 to stay afloat. He'll report his fundraising for the past three months within days. He is suggesting that money will no longer be a problem and says he now has enough to expand his campaign.
"I didn't want to get out in front and commit to spending a whole lot of money before I knew that the American people were going to say, 'You know what? This long shot may not be such a long shot," Cain says.
His shoestrings campaign has a certain improvised feel as it scrambles to hire staff and keep pace with the intense media interest enveloping the former head of Godfather's Pizza since he cruised past Romney in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
In New Hampshire this week, Cain's new press spokesman J.D. Gordon, sheepishly admitted to a throng of reporters that he didn't know the specifics about the candidate's schedule that same afternoon, nor the last time Cain had been in the state.
Cain has kept a nontraditional schedule.
With his popularity climbing last month, he eschewed the campaign trail for bookstores as part of a tour to promote his new memoir.
And Thursday, as the new poll showed him leading the pack, Cain didn't beeline it to Iowa to try to capitalize on it as expected. Instead, he made a relatively low-key appearance in Ohio at a Christian university. And on Friday, he was launching a bus tour through Tennessee.
Neither state holds a primary until March — two months after voting begins.
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