Herman Cain wows gathering of Howard Co. Republicans

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain, speaking at the Howard County Lincoln Day dinner Friday night, offered no specifics about what he would do if elected the nation's leader, but he didn't need to.

Cain, 65, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, a cancer survivor and an Atlanta radio talk-show host, got a sustained standing ovation, punctuated by loud cheers, from more than 300 people at the Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City just for entering the room.

Some attendees confessed privately they had only recently heard of Cain, but the party faithful seemed to like his rebellious, Tea Party-style rhetoric and his disdain for mainstream Republicans.

"Herman Cain is a guy who tells the truth," Maryland Republican national committeeman Louis Pope told the crowd as he introduced Cain to the strains of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Pope described a man who "lived the American dream," raising himself from humble beginnings to earn a degree in mathematics and head several major companies and the National Restaurant Association.

Cain, who is African-American, quickly began reciting the results of recent polls that show his self-described "dark horse" candidacy is now as strong as that of much more prominent Republicans, including former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a fellow Georgian.

"To Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer — what do you think about me now?" Cain jeered, referring to former President George W. Bush's chief political advisor Rove and a conservative columnist.

"Political insiders haven't accepted the reality that the American people are going to elect the next president," Cain said to more cheers. He made frequent references to the nation's founders and to what he calls "the spirit of America."

"Fifty percent of the electorate out there do not have a clue," he said, adding that those voters support President Barack Obama. "This is why President Obama's approval rating is still 50 percent. Stupid people are ruining America," he said, obliquely referring to the title of his latest book, "They Think You're Stupid."

"I have lived the American dream and I have seen it under attack," Cain said. Telling his audience that if it doesn't "take the nation back" by winning the White House next year, "the damage" may not be reparable "in our lifetime."

Republicans, Cain said, have to defend the nation against a "liberal onslaught." He denounced Obama for pushing health care reform legislation through Congress, and said the one thing that finally pushed him to seek the presidency was when Obama "signed the health care 'deform legislation against the will of the American people."

"The United States of America is not going to become the United States of Europe. Not on our watch," Cain said in closing.

Many Howard County Republicans said they have months yet to sift through the GOP field, but some already are in Cain's corner. Karen Winterling, a former Howard County Republican Club president and the event's emcee, said she wants a fresh face to support. Cain has never held political office.

"The lineup isn't done," Winterling said, referring to the fast-growing field of Republicans, both declared and undeclared. She said she sees Cain as a modern version of the nation's founding fathers.

"He's not a politician. He's a businessman," she said. " When he makes a mistake, he doesn't cover it up. He says, 'I didn't know.' He's not saying what he has to say to get elected. He's not a career politician. I respect him."

Martin G. Madden, a former Maryland state senator and a moderate Republican, said Cain "resonates."

Asked why Cain offered no specifics about actions he would undertake as president, Mark John Block, Cain's chief of staff, was succinct: "In a crowd like this, specifics would put them to sleep."

Howard County hasn't been terribly friendly to Republicans in recent years. Democrats have controlled the county government and dominated the local state legislative delegation for the past dozen years, and Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, won the county by a wide margin.

Larry.carson@baltsun.com

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