By Rhodes Cook
Senior Columnist

In his recently published autobiography, This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House, the Republican presidential candidate details at length his “up by the bootstraps” life history, from his business successes and bout with cancer to the early stages of his 2012 presidential campaign.

Our Latest 2012 Senate Ratings

Our Latest 2012 Governor Ratings

Our Latest 2012 House Ratings

Our Latest 2012 Presidential Discussion

Barely mentioned was his hardly noticed try for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, which began and ended before the primaries began, and his more consequential bid for the Republican Senate nomination in Georgia in 2004.

In the latter race, Cain ran against a pair of white Atlanta-area congressmen. He finished ahead of one (Mac Collins) and trailed the other (Johnny Isakson). In the process, Cain showed that he had the political skills needed to win votes in a party where few African-Americans are primary participants.

From the beginning, the race for retiring Democrat Zell Miller’s open Senate seat was considered Isakson’s to lose. He was well financed, was a known commodity from nearly 30 years in Georgia politics, and boasted a base in the vote-rich Republican suburbs north of Atlanta. The lone question was whether Isakson could be held below 50% in the primary and forced into a runoff with either Collins or Cain.

In spite of his business experience, which included a long stint as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Cain began the campaign as a virtual unknown. But he steadily gained ground through a combination of charisma, ideology and compelling life story. To Tom Baxter, the editor of the Southern Political Report, he was “a business candidate on steroids… a skilled pitchman,” who was able to connect with many conservative white voters.

In part, that connection was due to his passion; and, in part, to his conservative ideology: “If you want to define ‘conservative,'” Cain would tell voters, “I’ll spell it for you: C-A-I-N.”

The candidate advocated restructuring Social Security with optional personal retirement accounts and replacing the federal tax code with a national sales tax dubbed the “fair tax.” It was a forerunner of his current “9-9-9” plan, which calls for a 9% tax on individual income, a 9% tax on corporate income and a 9% national sales tax.

But the prime issue in the Republican Senate primary was abortion, with Cain and Collins both arguing that Isakson was too moderate on the issue. The latter was considered a “three exception” candidate, who would permit abortions in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother. Cain and Collins allowed only one exception, for the health of the mother, and won a dual endorsement from Georgia Right to Life.

“I believe in life from inception,” Cain declared in one ad. “Johnny’s voted pro-abortion 14 times.” However, the issue failed to derail Isakson’s campaign as it did in a GOP Senate primary eight years earlier. Against the attacks from Cain and Collins, Isakson emphasized his “respect for life” and proved acceptable to most Republican primary voters on a host of other issues.

Cain did not have as much money as Isakson, but he raised more than Collins. By the end of June 2004, three weeks before the primary, Cain had collected nearly $3 million, including a loan of more than $750,000 to his campaign.

It was enough money for Cain to make his case, and on Primary Day he finished second with 26% of the vote. Isakson, though, drew 53% and won the Republican Senate nomination without the need of a runoff.
Chart 1: Cain’s first race: Georgia’s 2004 Republican Senate primary
In his first full-scale campaign for elective office, Herman Cain finished second in the 2004 Republican Senate primary. He was sandwiched between two white congressmen, trailing Johnny Isakson (the ultimate winner) while finishing ahead of Mac Collins. Of Georgia’s 159 counties, Cain carried five. Four were rural ones; the other was Richmond County, which includes the city of Augusta.


A look at Herman Cain’s 2004 primary vote in a selected sampling of Georgia counties:


Note: Racial percentages are based on the 2000 census. An asterisk (*) indicates that DeKalb County has a majority African-American population.

Sources: Georgia’s election web site for official 2004 Republican Senate primary returns. County and City Extra: Special Decennial Census Edition (Bernan) for racial data in the 2000 census.

Cain’s basic problem was that, unlike his rivals, he did not have a geographical beachhead to build on. Of Georgia’s 159 counties, Cain carried just five. Four of them — Grady, Jefferson, Taliaferro and Wheeler — were small, rural counties south and east of Atlanta. The fifth was Richmond County, which includes the city of Augusta.

Yet Cain rolled up a respectable share of the vote in a wide variety of places, drawing 31% in the fast-growing suburbs of Gwinnett County, 36% in Chatham County (which includes the city of Savannah), 38% in academic-oriented Clarke County (the home of the University of Georgia at Athens) and 46% in Columbia County (a suburban county outside Augusta).

The issue of race did not appear to be a significant factor in the primary outcome. There was no evidence of a massive influx of African Americans into the Republican primary to support Cain, nor was there any sign that the color of his skin repelled conservative white voters. “They’re not racist,” said one-time Georgia Republican Chairman Rusty Paul in describing rural voters south of Atlanta. “They’re driven by ideology, and Herman Cain has proven to them that he’s got the ideology.”

Cain agreed. In his autobiography, he noted that “even though there were very few black Republicans in most of Georgia’s 159 counties, when people listened to my message, it was not about the color of my skin.”

Cain’s decent primary showing left him as a figure to watch in Georgia Republican politics. “Running for the U.S. Senate was a bit audacious,” says University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. But he “impressed people” both in the way he talked and in the size of his vote, and he was seen as a “potential up and comer” in Georgia politics.

As for Cain, he may have been envisioning even broader horizons when he addressed his supporters on primary night in July 2004. “We may not have won the most votes, but we did not lose,” he declared. “I’ll be back.”
Chart 2: Top primary showings by African-American presidential candidates
There have been several African-American candidates who have made their mark in recent elections on the presidential nominating process, led by Barack Obama, who captured the Democratic nomination in 2008 and went on to win the White House that fall. On the Republican side, though, no African-American candidate has won a single primary or reached 1 million votes in an entire primary season. Listed below are the African-American presidential candidates of both parties who have drawn at least 250,000 primary votes.


Note: The number of primaries won by a particular candidate includes the District of Columbia. Democrat Shirley Chisholm won a non-binding, “beauty contest” primary in New Jersey in 1972.

Source: Guide to U.S. Elections, Volume 1, Sixth Edition (CQ Press).
By Harry Enten
Guest Columnist

Since the upset victory of Republican Bob Turner (NY-9), pundits have argued over the meaning of the results. One of the more popular beliefs is that President Obama’s unpopularity played a large role in the election of a Republican in a Democratic district. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Obama will drag other Democrats to defeat in the 2012 House elections (because of a phenomenon known as negative coattails).

Research by Alan Abramowitz (among others) illustrates that there is little to any evidence that special elections predict the results in the next general House election. The political environment can change from now until November 2012. But what if President Obama remains unpopular through 2012? Will Republicans actually gain seats in the House? The history of presidential year House elections suggests that while we do not know for sure, House Democrats probably will not fare well.

It turns out that this coattail effect appears inconsistently in presidential year House elections. We all remember how President Bush’s negative standing three years ago (and Obama’s significant victory) helped Democrats gain 21 seats in the House. Some of us will also recall how Republicans made major gains during President Reagan’s landslide 1980 victory. But for every 1980, there is a 1988. President George H.W. Bush triumphed in 1988, but House Republicans actually lost three seats. More recently in 1996, President Clinton cruised to an easy win, but Republicans lost only a handful of seats and retained control of the House.

Is there a pattern to this inconsistency? When we break down the results of the last 20 (since 1932) presidential year House elections by whether the president’s party controlled the House, the coattail effect appears only in one type of House election: ones in which the president’s party controls the House.

Let us take a look at a simple regression where the president’s party’s seats after the presidential year House election equals the number of seats they won in the prior midterm election plus the president’s party’s presidential vote in this election.
Chart 1: How well presidential vote predicts seats won in House when president’s party controls House


This equation explains a whopping 98.3% of the variation in the percentage of House seats won by the president’s party in the eight House elections since 1932 in which the president’s party also controlled the House — in other words, when the president’s party holds the House, the total share of the vote the president and his party’s House candidates receive is very similar. Now, this statistical analysis relies on a small eight-sample set and cannot necessarily be used for future prediction, but it does indicate that this equation fits the data very well.

The coattail effect is also apparent when we look at the national House vote (i.e. actual percentage of ballots cast) for the president’s party. This time the regression is president’s party’s national House vote equals seats they won in the prior midterm election plus president’s vote in this election.
Chart 2: How well presidential vote predicts national House vote when president’s party controls House


As with seats’ regression, this equation accounts for a large percentage of the differences in the national House vote in the elections in which the same party controls both the speaker’s gavel and White House. The 2004 election in which the Republican Party won 51.2% of the two-party vote for President and 51.4% of the two-party vote for the House is a great example of this powerful relationship*.

Why does this connection exist? To me, it is pretty clear. Whatever opinion the voters have on the direction of the country, they can reward or blame whichever party is in charge. With the same party in control of both the House and White House, voters know whom to hold responsible.

On the other hand, the ability to determine the party accountable for the nation’s wellbeing, or lack thereof, becomes difficult when the speaker’s party and the president’s party differ. The past 10 months is a case in point. President Obama and House Republicans have continuously bickered over the budget, while the American economy continues to stagnate. Is President Obama at fault for putting forth plans that he knows have no chance of passing the House, or are House Republicans responsible for not being willing to compromise? This conundrum is borne out in prior election data.

Let us re-examine the House seat formula above, but concentrate on the 12 elections since 1932 in which the president’s party did not control the House.
Chart 3: How well presidential vote predicts seats won in House when president’s party does not control House


We can only explain 15.5% of the differences in seats won by the president’s party in these 12 elections. The presidential vote variable is statistically significant at the .10 level, but holds little practical significance in forecasting seats. For instance, President Truman defeated Thomas Dewey by about 4.5% in 1948, while his Democratic party won an astounding 76 additional seats and regained control of the House. However, President Bush lost the 1992 presidential election by about 6%, but his Republican party actually gained 10 seats in the House. The House national vote formula seen above but applied to these 12 elections of divided government reveals a similar non-relationship between presidential vote and House national vote.
Chart 4: How well presidential vote predicts national House vote when president’s party does not control House


Because the 2012 election will be like these 12 divided government elections, it is impossible to know whether forecasting the 2012 House elections based solely on the presidential election results would work. That said, I think two important points should be made:

1. In none of the 20 previous House elections did one party win a large share of the presidential vote and lose a large number of seats in the House. It would seem quite unlikely that President Obama could go down to defeat, while the Democrats win the 25 seats necessary to regain the House.

2. In the 10 elections since 1952 in which the president’s party did not control the House, the largest seat gain for either party has been 21. It would seem that in the past 60 years voters have been unwilling to reward or blame either party too greatly when faced with split government. They tend to like the status quo.

When we combine these two facts with President Obama’s low approval ratings, history tells us that the Republicans appear to be in a very good position to keep control of the House.

*All percentages are based off two-party share. That is, 100 * President’s Party Percentage / (President’s Party Percentage + Opposition Party’s Percentage).
Harry Enten, a recent graduate of Dartmouth College, has previously interned at the NBC Political Unit in Washington D.C. and Pollster.com.
By U.Va. Center for Politics
Ex-Gov. Lingle is underdog in Hawaii Senate race

Strange doings are afoot in deep blue Hawaii, where the new Democratic governor, ex-Rep. Neil Abercrombie, is the most unpopular governor in the nation according to one pollster, and the old governor, Republican Linda Lingle, is now mounting a credible bid for the state’s open Senate seat.

Democratic firm Public Policy Polling gave Abercrombie, who saw four top staffers resign earlier this month, the dubious distinction after its polling showed his approval at a dismal 30% approval/56% disapproval. That puts him below some of PPP’s other poor performers, such as Govs. Rick Scott (R-FL) and John Kasich (R-OH).

Meanwhile, PPP also found that Lingle, reelected handily in heavily Democratic 2006, was only down six points to the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Mazie Hirono. Lingle was leading the other contender for the nomination, ex-Rep. Ed Case. Case — whose congressional bid last year against now-Rep. Colleen Hanabusa split the Democratic vote, allowing Republican Charles Djou to briefly hold Hawaii’s First Congressional District after a special election — is deeply disliked by the Aloha State’s Democratic establishment, so Hirono is the preferred candidate.

Lingle, who doesn’t shy away from being called a RINO (Republican in Name Only), is an impressive recruiting victory for national Republicans, and she makes what could have been a yawner of a race to replace the retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) into, instead, a real competition.

Given Republican opportunities elsewhere — Democrats could have more than a dozen competitive seats to defend next year — the GOP wins even if Lingle loses, so long as national Democrats need to spend precious resources in order to keep the seat blue — precious resources that they won’t be able to use elsewhere.

But let’s not forget that native Hawaiian Barack Obama will also be on the ballot next year, and he took more than 70% of the vote in Hawaii in 2008. He should pile up a big victory this time, too, which means Lingle — who introduced Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican convention (Hawaiians may not know that now but they will by the end of the campaign — will need a lot of ticket-splitting to win.

So, we continue to rate this race Leans Democratic.

— Kyle Kondik
Snoozers approach on November ballot

Perhaps the three biggest races in the upcoming Nov. 8 off-year general elections are all shaping up to be pretty uncompetitive.

For the first two, that isn’t a surprise. For months, it’s been clear that Republican Phil Bryant would win the open Mississippi governor’s chair (Republican Haley Barbour is term-limited) and that incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear would win a second term in Kentucky. But the apparent uncompetitiveness of the third — a referendum on Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, which restricts the rights of public sector unions — is something of a surprise.

Two national polling outfits, PPP and Quinnipiac, have both shown the referendum on the GOP-backed union restrictions (Issue 2 in Ohio) losing by 20 points or more. Even with the necessary caveats — it’s hard to poll issue elections, turnout is unpredictable in off-years — it appears that labor is in a good position to win this high-profile battle handily.

What do we take from these off-year elections? Nothing. They have zero predictive value for next year.

— Kyle Kondik

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to Top