Cain looks to outlast Gingrich surge

Herman Cain's presidential campaign is returning to early-voting primary states to shore up support and halt the rise of rival Newt Gingrich, who threatens to replace the former Godfather's Pizza CEO as Mitt Romney's primary challenger in the GOP race. 

But even as Cain plans events this week in Iowa and New Hampshire, a recently released video ad heralding efforts in Cain's home state of Alabama shows that the candidate hasn't abandoned his strategy of directing resources to later primaries, building a firewall in case mounting sexual harassment allegations — and Gingrich's political aptitude — threaten him in early contests.

Cain calls this his "national strategy," but the decision to tour states like Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia and Michigan have raised eyebrows among political watchers who believe that organization and retail politics are important parts of a winning formula in early states.

“I have the political talking heads, ‘why you in Michigan?’ Well there are a lot of good people in Michigan. And based upon the crowds we’ve had all day, I’ve got a lot of friends here in Michigan," Cain said at campaign stop in Traverse City last week, according to ABC News.

“Michigan is going to be a player in this upcoming primary season because of the way they have modified the schedule and changed things around. You guys are going to be a player and that’s why we wanted to spend some time here, and I wanted to have an opportunity to come and meet you, share my message and to be all over the state,” Cain said.

Cain campaign staff point to emerging leads in Super Tuesday states as important for a candidate who prides himself on running a nontraditional campaign, and note that early-voting states will be docked delegates following scheduling turmoil earlier this year. 

A recent poll by Vanderbilt University showed Cain opening a substantial lead over Romney in Tennessee, despite stumbling to handle the sexual harassment allegations. The campaign also circulated polls showing Cain leading other GOP challengers in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — states that have traditionally played larger roles in general elections than Republican primaries.

The release of Cain's "Bold in Alabama" ad seems to compliment that strategy — it is just Cain's second state-specific ad, following the release of an Iowa-centric video last week.

The ad labels Cain a "true son of the south" and highlights wins in Alabama straw polls.

"As the Cain Train moves through the heart of Dixie, proves once again that Herman Cain is putting the 'United' back into 'The United States of America,' " said campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon in a statement.

Still, the campaign seemed to acknowledge the need for work in early-voting states by scheduling this week's events, especially as a new poll by Republican firm The Polling Company shows Cain and Gingrich in a statistical dead heat in Iowa.

Cain returns to the Hawkeye State for the first time since mid-October on Tuesday, with five public events scheduled over the next two days.

From Iowa, Cain will head to New Hampshire on Thursday for a rally that is expected to draw hundreds of supporters. While the Granite State is expected to be an easy win for Romney, formerly governor of neighboring Massachusetts, a strong second-place finish could help propel Cain going into South Carolina, which offers Gingrich — a former representative from Georgia — a similar home-field advantage.

Cain will need help to maintain relevance in the Republican field as Gingrich continues to surge. A poll from Public Policy Polling put the former Speaker atop the Republican field Monday, leading Cain by 3 percentage points and Romney by 10 percentage points. A CNN/Opinion Research poll showed more dramatic separation, with Romney leading Gingrich 24 percent to 22 percent, and Cain trailing substantially with just 14 percent of likely voters.