Herman Cain (R) speaks at a "Faith and Freedom" rally at Ohio Christian University Thursday.
BARTLETT, Tenn. -- With the Republican presidential primary season potentially beginning as early as December, candidates have been pounding the pavement in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But for the next two days, Herman Cain -- the newest front runner in the race for the White House -- is bringing his campaign here, to Tennessee, and forgoing those states that will be the earliest to cast ballots to decide the GOP nominee.
Days after the release of an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll that shows Cain as the leader in the race for the nomination, political observers are scratching their heads as to why his campaign is heading to the Volunteer State instead of the carve-out states that historically have played the biggest role in selecting the country’s next chief executive.
Cain’s trip that will take him from Memphis, where he was born, through Nashville, the music city where country singers like Lee Greenwood endorsed him last week.
It is his second visit to Tennessee in as many weeks, but the last time he was here, it was part of his book tour. Tennessee's primary will not be until March 6, 2012, part of Super Tuesday.
Cain told reporters that the front loading of the primary calendar and the Republican National Committee potentially stripping Florida of half its delegates for setting a primary date that violates party rules will mean other states will play a more influential role in determining the nominee than in the past.
“We believe states like Tennessee, that traditionally would not have had as big a role, are going to be more important,” Cain contended Wednesday after speaking at a Faith and Freedom Coalition rally at Ohio Christian University. "You can’t win Florida and wave the victory flag. You have got to look at some of those other states that are coming after Florida -- and Tennessee happens to be one.”
But while Cain might be leading in a national poll, he is not ahead in any early states, like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, or Florida. Nor is he ahead in fundraising, organization, or the groundwork that many feel is essential to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire.
With the newfound momentum of his campaign, observers question if he may be squandering his chance to strike while the iron is hot.
Joshua Putnam, a visiting political science professor at Davidson College and founder of FrontloaderHQ.com, a blog that tracks the primary schedule, said Cain's strategy is a curious one.
“The main problem here is Cain has the poll numbers, but he doesn’t have the fundraising and endorsements of the big wigs in the party,” Putnam said, “and campaigning in those early states is the only way to get [them]."
If the Cain campaign is running a 50-state strategy, it may find itself in trouble if they can't show early state voters that Cain can win, Putnam added.
Cain's campaign manager, Mark Block, said the campaign is not limiting itself to campaigning in only the states where other candidates have been. Block said on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" on Oct. 5, for example, "It's not the traditional campaign that's been run in past years.... We're not running a one-, two- or three-state strategy."
Plus, running a 50-state strategy would be exceedingly difficult for a campaign with limited resources.
Cain joked with reporters in New Hampshire Wednesday that he was heading to Tennessee, because he wanted to go home. The decision to campaign in the state will do little to quiet the charges that the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza is more interested in selling books than selling himself to voters.
But it also may be a sign of a newfound confidence Cain has in his supporters. The Atlanta-based businessman said he has not been in Iowa, because polls show he is already doing well there. An NBC-Marist poll released last week showed Cain a close second to Romney, though he has a limited campaign infrastructure there. He said he will also be heading back to New Hampshire.
"Governor Romney has a great big lead,” Cain said, “but we’re not going to abandon it, because I want to make sure that if he keeps that lead, we’ll come in a strong second.
“All of the states are really important, because you really just don’t know how things are going to shake out.”
Next week for Cain: Arizona and Indiana. He's not back in Iowa until mid-November.