Herman Cain, beleaguered by charges of sexual harassment, was all over Washington last week -- an odd choice of venue, considering that the Iowa precinct caucuses are now just 58 days away and the New Hampshire primary 65.
But as I learned when I sat next to Cain Friday morning during a long-scheduled taping of Richard Carlson's "Danger Zone" radio program, Cain seemed unfazed.
In conversation before the taping he dismissed the controversy. "No documentation. No witnesses. And I didn't cancel a single event this week" -- although his wife Gloria, accompanying him for the first time, cancelled an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren.
Political scientist Jay Cost, in a midweek post on the Weekly Standard blog, indicted Cain and all the other Republican candidates except Mitt Romney for breaking the rules of "the great game of politics."
"Yes, the political game as it is played in 2011 is terrible and is in need for major reforms," he wrote. "But if you want to win, you need somebody who knows how to play it."
Cain isn't buying that. He brags that he is an "unconventional candidate" with an "unconventional campaign" and an "unconventional message that is resonating around the country."
I tend to think the old rules still apply. But Cain's current lead in the polls, maintained after the sexual harassment story broke last Sunday in Politico, suggests there may be something to his argument.
One rule Cain has broken is that candidates have to spend a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, making personal contact with voters who, legend has it, won't support a candidate till they've had a chance to talk to him three or four times.
Cain hasn't spent much time in the two first-in-the-nation states this year. When I went to his headquarters outside Des Moines three days before the straw poll, the door was locked and the place looked empty.
Cain says he spent time there last year, and in 2011 he's been communicating with voters nationally through new media on his trips to states with later primaries.
There may be something to that. This year, voters have been getting to know potential and actual candidates through cable news and YouTube videos.
YouTube videos made New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a national celebrity and created a boomlet for his candidacy. He declined to run, but I can't recall a similar groundswell for a governor of a mid-sized state.
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