Dave Martin, File, Associated Press
TALLADEGA, Ala. — He's a mathematician, a minister, a former radio talk show host and pizza magnate. But most of all, Herman Cain is a salesman.
And how he sells.
"The sleeping giant called 'we the people' has awakened," Cain thunders, pacing the stage in his trademark dark suit, brown fedora and "lucky" gold tie, delivering a rollicking, 45-minute performance that evokes an old-fashioned church revival, complete with cries of "Amen" from his audience.
Whether it's selling his book or his presidential aspirations, this is Cain at his best, grinning and joking and wooing a crowd, soaking in the adulation as he vows to lead the cheering masses to a promised land of "less regulation, less legislation and less taxation."
That's simplistic, of course. But so is Cain's message, and he makes no apologies for it.
"They want to confuse you with comp-lex-city," booms the self-styled "Hermanator," accentuating every syllable. "I want to lead you with sim-pli-city."
In the end, he takes no questions, sweeping off to his next stop to the tune of "Rock You Like a Hurricane." His smile disarms everyone whose hand he shakes along the way.
"Is he for real?" asks 75-year-old Jean Waggoner, a longtime Republican activist from Montgomery.
It is a question that has confounded political observers and pollsters alike: Just what to make of this unlikely candidate with an inspirational personal story, a magnetic personality and a campaign like nothing they have ever seen.
Allegations of sexual harassment may have tarnished the image of the 65-year-old Baptist minister. They have certainly rattled his style. His messy denials and memory lapses seem far more like the familiar evasiveness of the "inside-the-beltway" politicians he derides.
But Cain is still doing well in a series of polls, still raising money and still vowing that he's in the race to win.
So the question remains: Is he for real?
Cain himself doesn't offer much of an answer.
His speeches are mesmerizing, delivered with humor and aplomb. But they offer little insight into the man himself and his extraordinary journey from the projects of segregated Atlanta to the boardrooms of corporate America.
"I grew up po', which is even worse than being poor," Cain writes in the introduction to his book, "This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House."
The book is partly dedicated to his father Luther, a janitor, barber and chauffeur and his mother Lenora, a domestic.
Writing of his youth, Cain avoids any detailed examination of those tumultuous times. He glances over the indignities of having to sit at the back of the bus or drink from the "coloreds" water fountain.
While fellow students at the historically black Morehouse College were joining Martin Luther King Jr. in marches and staging sit-ins, Cain joined the glee club. (He is a gifted singer whose mellifluous baritone is often heard during the campaign.)
Cain gets visibly annoyed at suggestions that as a beneficiary of the civil rights movement, perhaps he should have participated more. He took his cues from his father, he says, who taught him never to expect a government handout, never to feel like a victim and to "stay out of trouble."
"Not all blacks in the '60s were activists," says Cain, who labels himself an "ABC — American, black, conservative — and proud of it."
Graduating with a degree in math, he married college sweetheart Gloria Etchison and went to work as a civilian mathematician for the Department of the Navy.
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