It’s awfully difficult to take Herman Cain’s presidential campaign seriously. He’s the former head of a pizza company who’s never held public office at any level. Cain ran for the Senate several years ago, and lost badly in a GOP primary — and it’s tough to parlay failure into a bid for national office.

And yet, here we are.

Herman Cain, who made his fortune pitching soda, burgers and pizza before turning to politics, declared himself a candidate on Saturday for something that few others seem to want these days: the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

At a noontime rally at a park in Atlanta, his hometown, Mr. Cain, 65, whose conservative fiscal credentials have made him a favorite among some Tea Party backers, promised “a real vision” to confront the nation’s growing economic and foreign policy problems.

By some estimates, as many 10,000 people showed up for his announcement speech, which is pretty good for a strange right-wing activist with practically no support in national polls.

As implausible as his campaign appears to be, it’s probably a mistake to completely dismiss Cain as a joke. He’s a favorite of the Tea Party crowd, and apparently has the ability to impress Republican voters in debates. National Journal ran a piece recently highlighting five reasons folks shouldn’t underestimate Cain’s chances, and while he’s obviously still the longest of long-shots, the argument wasn’t absurd on its face.

But any inclinations anyone had towards taking Cain seriously should have quickly disappeared at the end of his kick-off speech.

[O]n Saturday, he was already summoning the spirit of another preacher.

“When Herman Cain is president,” he said, wrapping up his announcement speech, “we will finally be able to say, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, America is free at last.’”

So, let me get this straight. A right-wing activist with a history of bigotry spoke in Atlanta to an audience that was practically all white and declared himself the heir to MLK’s dream? Are you kidding me?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.