Why Cain’s problems don’t help Obama

If you’re a Democrat, what’s not to love about the saga of Herman Cain and his allegedly busy hands?

For Democrats working to get President Obama reelected, the answer is, a lot: Herman Cain could be hurting the president’s shot at four more years.

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Not with his 9-9-9 plan, of course, but with the ongoing circus of allegations of sexual harassment swirling around his campaign. 

Every day the media are focused on that circus, the White House laments, is a day that is not about Mitt Romney and his history of flip-flops.

It’s amusing that Cain is still leading the field, despite his troubles, said one Democratic official, “but we would rather you all focus on Romney.”

The thinking goes that Cain was never going to win the nomination anyway. If he implodes, it would neither surprise nor hurt Obama.


But by dragging it out and dominating news cycle after news cycle, Cain is abetting Romney’s hopes of coasting to the nomination relatively unscathed. Not only is the Cain controversy allowing Romney to fly under the radar, it is preventing any other GOP candidates from getting any air for their campaigns. And while everyone is looking at Cain and waiting for the next chapter, Team Obama’s window in which to define Romney as spineless grows smaller by the day.

Democrats have long hoped and assumed that a field full of extreme candidates would batter and bruise one another to the point that whoever emerged as the nominee would be limping into a battle with Obama, painted with a broad brush of right-wing extremism.

That is especially true of Romney, a candidate susceptible to charges of flip-flopping, pandering and political nihilism who is widely perceived as the most dangerous threat to Obama in a general election. 

But whistlin’ Mitt Romney is on track to walk into the end zone untouched, and Cain’s daily drama makes for excellent blocking less than two months from the Iowa caucuses. 

The Associated Press noted in a story Tuesday that Romney had not taken a question from voters in 10 days and had yet to run a television ad.

“Instead, the former Massachusetts governor has been raising money and positioning his campaign for a general election clash against President Barack Obama,” the AP reported. 

And there’s more to concern Democrats than just Romney’s free time. 

Consider the contrast Democrats want and need to draw on women’s issues and the opportunity given them to do so as Mississippi tries to pass legislation categorizing fetuses as people.

The Democratic National Committee has been working overtime this week to highlight Romney’s support for “personhood” amendments in Mississippi and possibly Ohio and Florida. 

The once-pro-choice candidate is “wrong for women,” DNC officials have said repeatedly this week, again pouncing on an area in which Romney has changed positions, a core argument in Democrats’ argument that Romney has no core. 

But whose issues with women are people talking about? The likely nominee’s, or the guy locked in a duel with Gloria Allred?

Democrats, by and large, are chuckling about Cain’s troubles — partly because they make him unelectable in a general election but mostly because they add to the notion that the GOP has lost its marbles.

“I think the whole Cain episode and the focus on Perry’s silly speech makes the GOP look like a hot mess to the public while the president is focused on jobs and the economy,” Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said. “None of these people are ready to be commander in chief.”

And other Democrats see nothing but silver linings as Cain’s troubles mount and conservatives rally around him, again underscoring Romney’s problems with the Republican base. 

Romney’s troubles are well-known — in Washington. Obama needs to define him to the rest of the country quickly and broadly as a flip-flopper who can’t be trusted. And he needs to do it now.

That’s why David Axelrod and Co. haven’t been sitting on the sidelines, engaging Romney for weeks now and treating him like the presumptive nominee.

They think Cain is never going to win independent voters in a general election, but Romney can. That’s a problem for Obama. 

Axe and his team need Romney to lose some blood on his way to the nomination, and they thought the Republican field would help them accomplish that. 

Instead, the former Massachusetts governor is standing taller every day as his closest competitor drowns in a sea of allegations and denials. 

Regardless of whether Cain made a pass, it’s the pass he’s giving Romney that is causing Democrats heartburn.

Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill. Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com.