Herman Cain Wins. Mitt Romney Loses?

Last Thursday, at the end of the first Republican Presidential Primary Debate, FOX News aired an immediate post-debate focus groups — the kind with realtime dial-based favorable/unfavorable meters and instant analysis from “ordinary folk.” This one was moderated by well-known Republican pollster and wordsmith Frank Luntz. It was standard stuff except for the participants’ near unanimous decision on who won the debate: Herman Cain.

Who?

You know, the former CEO of Godfather Pizza? Herman Cain.

No, really, watch:

Note that Cain didn’t just win. People could, without pause, say why they liked him:
“A breath of fresh air.”
“Direct.”
“Common sense.”
“Clear and concise.”
“Has a plan.”

Strong stuff.

Now, Cain may be a flash in the pan as other Republican candidates hope, but it is undeniable that Cain is getting a bounce in money, volunteers, and mainstream media attention.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was one of the “big-name” candidates/potential candidates who did not participate in the debate. Bachmann, Huckabee, Trump, Palin, and Gingrich were also missing.

Romney, via a spokesman, said of his absence: “It’s still early, the field is too unsettled and he’s not yet an announced candidate.”

Maybe those are good enough reasons; however, if you look at the bounce Cain got from FOX News, maybe not. In fact, Romney might want to ask Scott Brown just how helpful getting on FOX News was during his Senate run — Money Bomb anyone?

What is especially curious about the Romney decision to no show is that uber-Republican strategist Eric Fehrnstrom works for both Brown and Romney. One would think that, with deep knowledge from the Brown campaign available, Team Romney wouldn’t want to give anyone a chance to grow without challenge, especially with the viewers of FOX News.

Further, Romney could have easily made his own headway that night. He is more practiced and would likely shine in a national debate against people without any primetime presidential running experience. He could have created real distance between himself and his closest (in presentation) competitors: Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum. Those two were just terrible. And had Romney shined, it might have kept him from being the cover boy for this article for the New York Times: Big G.O.P. Donors Adopt Wait-and-See 2012 Tack.

Instead, by not showing up, Romney managed to get “an ordinary South Carolina guy in a baseball hat” (the same kind of guy that many would argue Brown was so good energizing) to say on national news: “Romney completely lost my vote tonight. I campaigned for Romney last time he was in town. I’m now for Cain.”

Ouch.

Count one win for Cain, and one interesting choice for Team Romney.

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