TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At a campaign stop here, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on Saturday took pains to reassure his supporters that he is a real candidate with a real strategy, not a celebrity-seeking opportunist.
"There's one myth out there that I want to clarify. I am in it to win it, not to get a TV show," Cain told a crowd of about 200 people at the Bryant Conference Center.
The former pizza company executive's unorthodox campaign, which eschews some of the traditional strategies of modern presidential campaigns, has frequently had to defend against critics and naysayers who accuse him of harboring ulterior motives. The attacks on Cain increased as he climbed to the top tier in several recent polls.
Cain has been campaigning in Southern states without early primaries while other serious contenders for the GOP nomination have focused, as they traditionally have, on key early-voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Although he did not have any book-selling events on his swing through Alabama, Cain included them in his campaign schedule elsewhere in October, leading his critics to suspect he was interested in boosting sales for his autobiography, This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House.
The candidate defended his strategy at a campaign stop in Birmingham, where he attended a Samford University football game, and predicted he would finish first or second in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary and go on to win the third primary event in South Carolina. "If I win South Carolina, look out. I predict that we will win South Carolina," Cain told reporters.
"Here's what the pundits are missing," he said. "We developed a base of support last year, and they didn't go away. So we don't have to try and build support at the last minute. Are we going back to the early primary states soon? Yes. And this is why, even though we weren't there when the pundits thought that we should be there, I think I did pretty good in the latest Iowa poll -- top tier. So we have a strategy of going back, but it's not going to be a strategy based upon what I call the traditional paradigm."
Cain said that he is keeping the particulars of his strategy close to the vest for competitive reasons. He added, "And quite frankly, the pundits who say that we have the wrong strategy, I want them to continue to think that we have the wrong strategy to be perfectly honest."
However, the candidate did acknowledge some mistakes, which he blamed on fatigue from the hectic pace of presidential campaigning. Although he was not specific, Cain has struggled in recent days to articulate a clear position on abortion rights. "We're gonna be more deliberate on the type of things we do when I've had a very full schedule," he said. "For example, in retrospect, doing a taped interview following a debate following some interviews probably wasn't a good idea, you know, because I'm only a human being. And you reach a point where if you get too tired, you're not on you're A-game."
In his remarks at the Tuscaloosa event, Cain reached out to tea party supporters who have helped fuel his rise in the polls. "I was speaking at tea party rallies in 2009 before it was cool," he said. "And I'm proud to say that I stand with the tea party in this country."
During his standard stump speech, he was interrupted by supporters of rival Republican, Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, who has made criticism of the Federal Reserve the centerpiece of his economic agenda.
"Our economy is on life support," Cain said, and was cut off by a Paul supporter yelling criticism about the Fed. Cain retorted, "With all due respect, I'm gonna give this speech today thank you very much. Our biggest domestic issue is not the Federal Reserve, it's this economy that's on life support and we've got to do something. ...I do not believe we need to end the Fed, we can fix the Fed, that's all I'm gonna say about that."
When he got a few "boos" from the audience, Cain said, "All I'm asking for is the respect for me to give my comments and my speech, that's all I'm asking. Just be respectful, that's all. Thank you very much."
The outburst was an exception on Cain's Alabama two-day swing. Most of his crowds have been large and receptive. On Friday in Montgomery, Cain brought out 1,000 people to a rally, many carrying pro-Cain signs and banners.