Cain’s TARP talk, praise of the Fed could hurt him with conservative voters

Businessman Herman Cain has shot to the top of the polls with support from Tea Party members, but his backing of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and opposition to auditing the Federal Reserve could hurt him with those same voters.

Levi Russell, the spokesman for the fiscally conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said that Cain will have to explain his stances on these issues if he is to remain a first-tier candidate.

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“Among the Tea Party audience, the TARP bailout is something they’re adamantly against, and they’re going to absolutely need to hear more from him on this issue to be comfortable with him,” said Russell. “I don’t know one Tea Party activist who’d say it’s a bad idea to audit the Fed, that’s not a popular position for him to be staking out.”

Conservatives have not yet coalesced around a GOP presidential contender. Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) are all favorites of the right, but none of them has locked down that voting bloc.

And many on the right hate the Federal Reserve. Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) push to audit the Fed has become a cause célèbre among a segment of the Tea Party movement, making Cain’s stance against the audit a dangerous position to take when he is trying to lock down conservative support.

Cain served as chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve in the mid-1990s and, in Tuesday’s debate, expressed his admiration for former Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

“The way Alan Greenspan oversaw the Fed and the way he coordinated with all of the Federal Reserve banks, I think that it worked fine back in the early 1990s,” Cain said.

Cain’s praise of Greenspan drew a sharp rebuke from Paul, who called the former chairman a “disaster” — to loud cheers from the audience.

At another point, Paul quoted Cain as calling those who wanted to audit the Fed “ignorant.” Cain said he was being misquoted, but that quote has been unearthed and verified.

Drew Ivers, a longtime Iowa Republican committeeman who is running Paul’s campaign in the state, pointed out that all five congressmen and both senators in Iowa voted for Paul’s bill to audit the Fed.

“I think it is going to hurt him,” Ivers said. “He’s contradicting himself, he’s making false claims to say there’s nothing to learn and it’s going to hurt him in Iowa.”

Craig Robinson, a former Iowa Republican Party political director who now runs the influential conservative news website The Iowa Republican, agreed that those issues could hurt Cain.

“Just like Rick Perry was vetted through these debates, Cain will be vetted through his debate performances and what he said in news interviews,” he said. “Some of the things he said, especially the Greenspan stuff, is really out of line with the Tea Party movement, and at some point that will come home to roost.”