Inside, about 100 or so supporters paid upwards of $1,000 to snack on salmon and pasta, and sip Diet Coke and club soda (despite the free booze, few drank) and hear Herman Cain speak.
Most of New York’s major political donors—Paul Singer, Ken Langone, Woody Johnson—have signed on with Mr. Romney’s campaign, in some cases after a brief flirtation with Chris Christie. The Cain supporters, meanwhile, are a motley bunch, many of whom are making their first major financial foray into presidential politics.
The alpha Cainiac is Blair Fensterstock, the founder of his own Wall Street law practice. Mr. Fensterstock said he met with Mr. Cain in the spring when he was invited to a lunch with him at a downtown steakhouse with a handful of other potential donors. Mr. Cain wasn’t yet an official candidate, and Mr. Fensterstock arrived at the restaurant 15 minutes ahead of schedule. He went to the bar, ordered a Diet Coke, when in walked Mr. Cain.
“I was inspired by his maturity, by his common sense approach towards both economic and foreign policy,” Mr. Fensterstock recalled.
Mr. Fensterstock said that he had never been much involved in politics before, save for a beer party for John Lindsay when he was 14. He estimated that he has raised close to $200,000 for Mr. Cain, however, including the event at the Russian Tea Room and one later in the day at the 101 Club, an event that was the brainchild of Peter Kalikow, real estate developer and former MTA chair.
“The appeal of Herman is that he is the antithesis of what is going on in the White House now. It is such a refreshing to have a proactive, business approach.”
But is this campaign really serious, or is it an elaborate hoax cooked up to sell more copies of Mr. Cain’s book? After all, before the sexual harassment allegation, the most attention the campaign received was when a web ad featuring campaign chief-of-staff Mark Block smoking a cigarette while staring into the camera and extolling the virtues of his boss went viral.
“Look, this is not an ordinary campaign. Mark Block is a grassroots type of guy. The ad gets at the fact that Herman Cain’s appeal is that he is so refreshingly different from what we have had in the Republican Party.”
The rest of the New York-based Cainiacs include a small network of young former supporters of Tim Pawlenty’s, the Minnesota governor who dropped out of the race amid diminishing support from the donor class. They had come together before for Republican Jewish causes, and contributed to a few congressional races, and banned together, according to one member of the group, who didn’t want to be named for fear of angering his employer, “to figure out the best way to make sure we have a voice and make sure the views we held were expressed.”
They are not well-known to much of the city’s political or donor class.
“When I am in a room full of Republicans, there is a good chance I will know a lot of them,” said Karol Markowicz, a Republican political operative who actually worked on Mr. Cain’s doomed 2004 run for the U.S. Senate and who attended the Russian Tea Room fund-raiser. “And except for one guy I recognized from the ‘Herman Badillo for Mayor’ campaign, I recognized no one.”
Still, this deep-pocked and largely untapped network quickly rallied behind Mr. Cain after Mr. Pawlenty dropped out.
“Here is the situation,” said one. “All the wise men have screwed up everything. How about all of the geniuses who set up the E.U.? You take the people who set up the E.U.—they would have been a great fit in the Oval Office or their presidential palace and they have fucked everything up. The reality is it really doesn’t matter if you can picture Herman Cain in the Oval Office. All of the wise men have betrayed us.”
A number of the local Cainiacs first came together around the candidate after a couple of meetings at Mr. Fensterstock’s apartment in Battery Park City. Like their brethren on the sidewalk, they flirted with Mr. Perry (“After the first debate, we were like, forget about that”) and said that what they most liked about Mr. Cain was that he was not Mitt Romney.
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