(Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)
Though the first GOP debate garnered a less than impressive showing of contenders, one unlikely candidate came out on top.
Herman Cain, a businessman and political newcomer, was the star of the Fox News network's television debate Thursday night. An online poll featured on the network's website showed, as of Friday night, that 54 percent of voters (1,103 voters) believed Cain won the South Carolina debate.
His closest competitor was Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) who received the approval of 543 voters – about 29 percent.
Fellow debaters Gary Johnson, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum all received the support of less than 5 percent.
The focus group featured in the Fox News after show also overwhelmingly chose Cain as the winner, though many said they did not know of Cain before the debate. Many in the crowd praised his straightforward answers and his ability to clearly define the problems.
In response, Cain's campaign released this statement, "It is often said that 'If you hear Herman Cain once, you'll never forget him.' Apparently, several million Americans agree."
However, Matt Latimer, a deputy director of speechwriting for George W. Bush, was not convinced by Cain. Latimer noted in an editorial for the Daily Beast that Cain is virtually unknown nationwide and said of his performance in the debate, "Mr. Cain did not take advantage of this rare ... opportunity in the spotlight to explain why anyone might consider him presidential."
He continued, "I knew little about him when the debate began, and I know even less about him now."
Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., a Maryland pastor and a board member at the National Association of Evangelicals, agreed with Latimer noting that Cain is unknown among evangelicals. However, Jackson said Cain's Christian testimony, combined with his plain-spokenness and his business sense, gives him a fighting chance among conservative Christians.
"I know that they don't know him yet," said Jackson. "But when evangelicals hear him and hear that he is pro-life, pro-marriage ... he may be very attractive to evangelicals who don't want business as usual, but they don't want to give up on their long-held beliefs of what is right and wrong."
Cain is the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and the former chairman of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Most recently, he had a radio talk show, "The Herman Cain Show" on WSB-AM-FM/Atlanta.
He announced his exploratory committee well before anyone else. Since then, he also won a Tea Party Patriots' on-site presidential straw poll with 22 percent of the on-site votes. Both Pawlenty and Paul trailed behind in the poll with 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Cain said of his faith in an April interview with The Christian Post, "I believe in God, I believe in his son Jesus Christ, and I believe in the Holy Spirit." He also said, "Faith plays a very big part in my life, especially when I'm having to wrestle with some major decisions."
The debate this week was a great opportunity for Cain, but critics said the event made the Republican selection of candidates look weak.
Latimer scoffed at the debate, saying, "The network made the Republican presidential primary look like a low-budget Star Trek convention, where only the guy who played Dr. McCoy and a bunch of extras bothered to show up."
GOP candidates looked weak Thursday night during an ill-attended Fox News debate, say critics.
All of the most recognizable and favored contenders – Michelle Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, and Sarah Palin – were absent the night of the debate. Mitt Romney, also absent, launched an exploratory committee last month, signaling that he was serious about a 2012 election.
In the after show analysis, television show host Frank Luntz indicated that some of the candidates believed it was too early for a debate with other contenders.
Agreeing with that assessment, Bishop Jackson said it is too early to begin wooing conservatives with television debates.
To use a sports analogy, Jackson said, "It's the preseason."
Clarification: Saturday, May 7, 2011:
An article on Friday, May 6, 2011, about a GOP debate hosted by Fox News, reported that Herman Cain, a businessman and political newcomer, won an online poll featured on the network's website with 54 percent of the vote (a total of 1,103 votes).
This poll was featured on FOXNews.com's debate page. The results there showed that Cain was up by 54 percent as of 5 p.m. ET Friday night. Since Friday, the polls have changed to reflect that Ron Paul has now gained the majority of the vote.
As of Saturday, 2:55 p.m.ET, 55.45 percent (2665 votes) of poll participants voted for Paul as the winner of the first Republican presidential debate in South Carolina.
A separate poll, posted on FoxInsider.com, also shows that as of Saturday afternoon, 54.72 percent of voters believe that Paul, a Protestant, came out on top.