Is Herman Cain a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination? It's a question no one in the pundit world was asking until the past week.
Cain has never held public office. When he ran for the Senate in Georgia in 2004, he lost the primary by a 52 percent to 26 percent margin.
He has zero experience in foreign or defense policy, where presidents have the most leeway to set policy. When questioned about the Middle East earlier this year, he clearly had no idea what the "right of return" is.
His solid performance in the Fox News/Google debate Sept. 22 didn't get pundits to take his chances seriously.
Neither did his 37 percent to 15 percent victory over Rick Perry in the Florida straw poll on Sept. 24. That was taken as a response to Perry's weak debate performance and a tribute to Cain for showing up and speaking before the 2,657 people who voted.
But Republicans around the nation seem to have responded the same way. The Fox News poll conducted Sept. 25 to 27 showed Cain with 17 percent of the vote -- a statistically significant jump from the 5 percent he had been averaging in polls taken in previous weeks.
And a SurveyUSA poll of Florida Republicans conducted Sept. 24 to 27 showed Cain trailing Mitt Romney by only 27 percent to 25 percent -- a statistical tie. That's very different from the Florida polls conducted by Public Policy Polling Sept. 22 to 25 and Quinnipiac Sept. 14 to 19, both of which showed Cain with 7 percent.
We will see whether other national or state polls show Cain with a similar surge. If so, then there's a real possibility that Cain could win enough primaries and caucuses to be a real contender.
That possibility is already being taken seriously by The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger. Henninger argued in a Sept. 29 column that Cain's success in business -- engineering turnarounds in Burger King's Philadelphia stores and Godfather's Pizza nationally -- made him a plausible candidate.
"Unlike the incumbent," Henninger wrote, "Herman Cain has at least twice identified the causes of a large failing enterprise, designed goals, achieved them and by all accounts inspired the people he was supposed to lead."
Cain's business success, his "9-9-9" tax plan, his generally conservative stands on issues, the YouTube clip showing him debating Bill Clinton on health care in 1994 -- all of these help account for his apparent surge in the polls.