Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain is gaining visibility. His surprise Florida straw poll win last month shows he’s still in the game. And he may have a role to play whether he gets the GOP presidential nomination or not.
To be sure, there’s much going against Herman Cain’s presidential campaign. The former pizza chain mogul has never held political office. And he has few staffers in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire where the first primary elections occur.
But as an African-American conservative in a race that includes the country’s first black President, he may have outsized influence.
Emory University professor Merle Black says Cain could follow Sarah Palin’s lead. The former Alaska Governor has played a key role since winning the 2008 vice presidential nomination -- even though the Republican ticket lost.
“It remains to be seen how far he’s going to go," Black said. "I think whatever happens, if he’s not on the ticket, he could certainly be a huge asset for Republican candidates across the country, speaking next fall on behalf of the Republican ticket.”
And it's possible Cain could attain a different office from the one he's seeking, says Charles Bullock, a professor at the University of Georgia.
“Maybe he wouldn’t be the presidential nominee but what if he were to become the vice presidential selection? Well, that would be a first," he said. "Neither party has ever had an African-American slated for vice president.”
Bullock says he could even be offered a statewide office in Georgia. That's largely testament to how popular Cain is throughout the Republican party.
Depending on how long Cain stays in the race, he is likely to have a featured role in the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Black of Emory University says if New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decides to enter the race this week, Cain will have scant chance of winning the nomination. But he’ll still be in demand to stump on the campaign trail.