The former CEO of Godfather's Pizza has no experience as an elected official, having run for political office just once before. Cain lost a Republican primary for Senate in Georgia in 2004, something he doesn't think has any bearing on his electability in 2012.

"People aren't just looking for someone that can win," Cain said. "They're looking for someone who lead and the wining will take care of itself."

He kicked off a media tour of sorts on Thursday, talking up his potential candidacy in interviews with Washington reporters as a much more high profile Republican — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — launched his own charm offensive in a speech and book signing at the National Press Club.

Even though Cain stressed he's officially in the exploratory stage, he's already taking some other major steps toward an official run. Cain is headed back to Iowa this weekend, where he already has staffers on the ground and supporters reaching out to activists in the state.

Cain said the hiring of both an Iowa campaign manager and chief of staff is "pending."

While Cain is well-known and popular among Tea Party activists, he said relying on them to coalesce around a presidential candidate isn't a path to victory and it won't be his strategy in 2012.

"So many people have this misconception about the Tea Party movement," he said. "The Tea Party is a citizens movement of multiple groups. They're not going to get behind a single individual because it's not what they do. They're out there with the goal of educating people about the Constitution and our founding principles."