"I'm Herman Cain," he said, grinning. "And I'm not running for second."
But even friends say some of the gaffes have been excruciating. "In terms of substance, he has mountains to climb," says Blackwell, a fellow cancer survivor. "I think he's smart enough to do it, but there are issues."
The issues include the fallout from sexual harassment charges and allegations of financial improprieties on the part of his campaign manager. Cain has flatly denied wrongdoing, calling the accusations a smear campaign.
At first, they didn't seem to dent his popularity. His campaign said it had raised $9 million in October and November.
Even before the charges surfaced, supporters were demanding more from Cain.
At a lavish fundraising dinner in Huntsville during his fall visit to Alabama, Danielle Sanford said that while she was captivated by the candidate's message — "he seemed to hit every source of frustration the average conservative is concerned about" — she chafed at the fact that he didn't take questions or get into specifics.
Having studied Cain's tax plan in depth, the 39-year-old restaurant owner had concluded that it would force her and her husband, Republican state Sen. Paul Sanford, to pay more taxes. "I'd like more clarity," she said.
James Reagan, who runs a small trucking business, agreed that "9-9-9" was too simplistic.
"It's a starting point," he said, after posing for a photograph with Cain and asking him to "help save my business I'm being taxed to death."
"That's my plan," Cain responded.
But his speech didn't offer any new details, just more soaring oratory and thundering delivery. Claiming the mantle of President Ronald Reagan, who "became president because he touched the hearts of the American people," Cain lamented the fact that Reagan's "shining city on the hill has slid to the side of the hill."
"If you give me the opportunity to be your next president," Cain continued, his voice rising to a crescendo, "together we will move it back to the top of the hill where it belongs."
The crowd was sold. It rose to its feet in deafening applause.
"Yes we Cain," they chanted. "Yes we Cain."
AP researcher Barbara Sambriski contributed to this report.
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