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Video: Herman Cain downplays race, gender in 2012

CEDAR RAPIDS — Although it was difficult to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential contest without reading a story about how a woman or a black man was going to fare in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, Herman Cain says that particular “novelty” has passed.

“I think President Barack Obama does get some credit for being the first African American running for president,” Cain told The Iowa Independent Tuesday night at a Linn County GOP chili cook-off. “It’s not talked about as much this time because the novelty of happening to be of a darker hue, or the novelty of happening to be a female isn’t as big of a news story as it might have been in 2008.

“I believe that the big story in 2011 and 2012 is not going to be about color, not going to be about gender, but about content of ideas and character. That’s what the story is going to be about.”

Any residual belief that the residents of predominantly non-ethnic Iowa aren’t open to welcoming and promoting another person of color, he said, should be cast aside.

“I have absolutely no qualms about me being an American black conservative — I’m an A.B.C. — I don’t want anybody else to label me. I’m an A.B.C., an American Black Conservative,” he said.

“I have been so warmly received by the people here in Iowa. They aren’t looking at color. They are looking at the content of my ideas. They are looking at my character and they are looking at what I can bring to the table as a leader in the toughest job in the world as President of the United States of America.”

If his public remarks were any indication, Cain is right. From the moment he entered the event, he was greeted with warm embraces, applause and firm handshakes. Before he was ushered to his awaiting chair at the front table, he was first brought cups of chili for taste-testing. When he was finally given the microphone, his voice flowed easily between a slow and deliberate cadence, sprinkled with “that’s rights” and “amens” from the audience, to a booming crescendo filled with urgent rifts of rhyme, often difficult to hear to the end due to applause.

He’s also right about being immune to labels. He’s part Southern Baptist preacher, pulling his flock toward stark realities while simultaneously offering glimpses of a future promised land. He’s polished, but not brass or pretentious. He’s wealthy, but hasn’t forgotten his family’s roots in poverty. He’s comfortable around others, quick with a smile and a laugh, and, obviously, a lover of life’s journey.

He’s the archetypal hero of Joseph Campbell fame — a self-made man of ordinary beginnings that seems poised to answer the call of a new adventure full of promise not only because of the victory that could be his own, but because of what he believes will result for everyone once the task is complete.

“I didn’t get the memo about this country,” Cain told event attendees, relating the state of the country to the dismal state of Godfather’s Pizza when he was asked to take it over and ultimately led it back to prosperity. “I believe we can turn things around.”

He wants to change the tone in America, he said, and make it acceptable again to be successful.

“There are folks who want to make us feel guilty,” Cain said. “But I’ve earned my success and I’m proud of it. … We don’t have to apologize for it.”

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