Cain’s support is not without limits

Herman Cain, reason be damned, continues to ride high as a top-tier Republican presidential candidate. Polls show him leading in some states, and despite any campaign organization in any state and a reluctance to show up in early nominating states, Cain is effectively running second nationwide.

Clearly, a lot of Republicans like Herman Cain, his astounding flaws notwithstanding.

But it’s worth appreciating the fact that not all support is created equal. Dan Balz, for example, sat in on a focus group in Cincinnati, moderated by pollster Peter Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Republicans in the group thought Cain was just great.

Confirming Gallup polls, Cain was viewed as the most likable of the candidates, a people person, a hard-working businessman, a potential problem-solver and someone who many said would be a good neighbor. “He’s Main Street,” said Becky Leighty, a Republican. “He’s not Wall Street, and he’s not a politician.”

At one point, Hart asked the participants to think back to fifth grade and the types of students they had encountered. From a list that included descriptions such as “teacher’s pet,” “loner,” “hard worker,” “nerd” and “know it all,” Hart asked them to write down which most applied to Cain, to Romney, to Perry and to Obama.

The majority described Cain as the classmate who was the “hard worker,” with others saying he was the “all-American kid” or “the kid everyone respects.”

And then we get to the punch-line.

Toward the end of the evening, Hart sat down at the table and braced the group with perhaps the most telling question of the night for Cain’s candidacy. “Here’s what I don’t get,” he began. He noted that Cain had been described as down to Earth and a good neighbor, but he also recalled how the group had described the country as being in terrible shape and noted that Cain is running a campaign with little staff or infrastructure.

“Do you think this person could be president of the United States?” he asked. “Is anybody willing to raise your hand and say, ‘I would be comfortable if he became the next president of the United States?’ ”

Not a hand went up.

Obviously, this is just one focus group, and it’d be a mistake to draw sweeping conclusions from one relatively small group of voters.

But I nevertheless think this speaks to a larger truth: Cain may enjoy some support, but when push comes to shove, the notion of this guy actually serving as president of the United States is a concept that’s just hard to swallow — even for people who like him.