This is Cain's moment. By some measures, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza has surged into the lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president with his folksy style, certitude, and simple tax proposal - not to mention conservative misgivings about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the perceived inevitable nominee.
According to last week's Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Cain was leading Romney 27 percent to 23 percent among Republican voters nationally. For Cain, that represented a leap of 22 percentage points from six weeks ago.
He is the third candidate to rise as the anti-Romney. First Rep. Michele Bachmann and then Texas Gov. Rick Perry held that honor, only to fade.
Indeed, Cain's rise intersects exactly with Perry's collapse. In August, the Journal poll had Perry at 38 percent, but he was down in last week's survey to 16 percent.
Romney's number has remained steady for months, with support from about one quarter of the GOP electorate in a variety of national polls.
Cain took off when he won the Florida Republican Party straw poll of nearly 3,0000 activists in Orlando on Sept. 24, amid questions about whether Perry had what it takes. The vote was held just two days after a Fox News debate in which the Texas governor looked overmatched and bumbling, his second poor performance in a row.
It seems certain that "9-9-9" will join the roster of memorable debate lines, along with "There you go again" (Ronald Reagan, 1980); "Where's the beef?" (Walter Mondale, 1984) and the Social Security "lockbox" (Al Gore, 2000).
But it is also a key part of the Cain appeal. In a reassuring baritone, with the cadence of a minister or motivational speaker, he tells Republicans that the solutions to the nation's economic problems are simpler than the politicians, academic pointy-headed experts, and media pundits would have you believe. It just takes an outsider to cut through.
"Therein lies the difference between me, the non-politician, and all of the politicians," Cain said, responding during the Dartmouth debate to criticism of his plan from several rivals.
"They want to pass what they think they can get passed rather than what we need, which is a bold solution," Cain said. "9-9-9 is bold, and the American people want a bold solution, not just what's going to kick the can ... down the road."
That was the quality many delegates in Florida's September straw poll cited when they voted for Cain.
"We saw in him the desire and determination to turn things around," said Cathy Benoit, 73, who is white and lives in rural Jackson County, in the state's panhandle. "We're going with Cain because we want real change."
The question is whether Cain can translate his spike in popularity into claiming the Republican nomination - thus setting the stage for a contest for the White House between two African Americans.
Most party professionals think it won't happen, in part because Cain has not established much of an organization on the ground in the early states such as New Hampshire and Iowa. Meanwhile, Cain "gives conservatives a place to go with their frustration" until they sort out where they want to go, said a prominent GOP strategist who is not affiliated with any of the candidates and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Republicans have seen this narrative arc before. Many point to 1996, when un-politician Steve Forbes shook up the primaries with his flat-income-tax proposal, before everybody settled down with a front-runner they weren't wild about - Bob Dole.
Whatever happens, Herman Cain has arrived.
In a sure sign last week, David Letterman built one of his "Top 10" lists around him. "No. 1: Chris Christie wants to be his running mate just for the free pizza."
Contact politics writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or email@example.com or @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent.