By Bob Keefe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
WASHINGTON -- He dropped off most voters' radar screens after losing a 2004 bid to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.
But conservative Atlanta radio show host Herman Cain has hardly forgotten about politics.
In fact, he may be running for president in 2012.
Cain, a Republican, said he is "one step closer" toward announcing a bid for president after the GOP's big sweep of the November midterm elections.
For now, Cain said he is putting out feelers and "prayerfully considering" a run, and he will make a decision sometime early next year.
"Right now I'm in the process of contacting people who are very enthusiastic about a campaign," Cain said. "Over the next few weeks, we'll be seeing if we can tap into the energy we saw [in November]," for a presidential bid.
f he does launch a long-shot campaign, Cain, 65, could be one of two Georgians vying for the White House in 2012. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also has indicated he's edging closer toward running for the Republican nomination for president.
Cain undoubtedly would be an underdog to Gingrich and other candidates. While he has a small army of dedicated followers and fans of his nightly radio show on Atlanta's WSB and he has landed speaking gigs at conservative events nationally, Cain is less than well-known nationally.
"It's kind of hard to imagine him doing anything beyond getting 1 or 2 percent of the vote," said Chris Grant, a political science professor at Mercer University in Macon.
Grant said Cain would most likely fare like past conservative presidential contenders such as Alan Keyes or Gary Bauer.
"They're candidates who really think they can probably win ... but they're not really positioned well enough to develop a national base needed in order to win," he said.
Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, is now in the business of stirring up conservative public opinion.
In addition to hosting his right-leaning radio show and penning a syndicated newspaper column, Cain is a regular at tea party movement events and also formed his own group called the "Intelligent Thinkers Movement."
Through his "Hermanator" political action committee, Cain and his followers support Republican and conservative candidates nationwide. Cain's "Hermanator" PAC took in nearly $169,000 since it was established in May, which it spent on various conservative congressional candidates and on travel and office expenses.
Even if he loses, running for president probably couldn't hurt Cain, Grant pointed out.
"As a very practical matter, this would increase his listenership, he'll gain national notoriety, and he'll set himself up to make national commentary on social and political issues," Grant said.
Cain's national notoriety hit a new high last April, when he joined conservative stars such as Sarah Palin, Gingrich, Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee as a speaker at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
It was on stage at the conference where Cain, who lost to Johnny Isakson in the 2004 GOP Senate primary, dropped the first hint of his desire to run for president. Cain won 26.2 percent of the vote in that three-way primary in July 2004.
In the months that followed the conference, Cain traveled the country like an aspiring GOP candidate, speaking at more than 40 events sponsored by the tea party and other groups, including a "Take Back Our Government" rally in Iowa, a "Defending the American Dream" summit in Texas, and a "Right Nation" convention in Illinois.
Cain is a proponent of a Fair Tax plan that would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and replace federal income and corporate taxes with a national sales tax.
Retiring Republican U.S. Rep. John Linder of Lawrenceville, who helped formulate the Fair Tax idea, said he has known Cain for more than 20 years.
Linder said he would welcome a presidential candidate who supports the controversial tax plan. Yet the nine-term congressman said he has doubts about Cain's potential.
"He's a passionate speaker and has great energy, but it all comes down to whether you can raise enough money to get your message out," Linder said. "And I just don't know how much money Herman Cain can raise."
Cain said he isn't deterred.
"This ain't the first rodeo I've been to," he said. "You don't not go to the rodeo just because there are some tough broncos out there. That doesn't discourage me, and it doesn't discourage my team."
Cain, who has never held elected office, said he's not interested in running for anything other than president.
"I don't have enough years left to be a career-climbing politician," he said.
At the Republican leadership convention, Cain told the audience one of the factors driving his political ambitions.
In 2006, he was diagnosed with liver and colon cancer and given little chance to live. But since January 2007, he added, he's been cancer-free.
There are two reasons why, Cain told the audience.
First, "God said, ‘Not yet, Herman. You've got some work to do,' " he said.
Second, the nation's excellent health care system helped keep him alive, he said.
Then, taking a poke at the man whose office he'd like to have, Cain added that if national health care changes championed by President Barack Obama would've been in place when he was battling cancer, it "would've killed me."
"I'd be dead," Cain said.