Now the tea party favorite wants to be president.
"In case you accidentally listen to a skeptic or doubting Thomas out there, just to be clear ... I'm running for president of the United States, and I'm not running for second," he told a crowd at Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday. Chants of "Herman" erupted from the crowd of thousands in downtown Atlanta.
The announcement by the businessman, author and talk radio show host that he was joining the expanding Republican field came after months of traveling around the country to introduce himself to voters.
Now the 65-year-old will see if he can use that grass-roots enthusiasm to turn a long-shot campaign into a credible bid.
Cain supports a strong national defense, opposes abortion, backs replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax and favors a return to the gold standard. He said President Barack Obama "threw Israel under the bus" because he sought to base Mideast border talks partly on the pre-1967 war lines, and criticized the Justice Department for challenging Arizona's tough crackdown on illegal immigration.
"We shouldn't be suing Arizona," he said to cheers. "We ought to send them a prize."
Cain lost a three-way Republican U.S. Senate primary bid in Georgia in 2004 with one-quarter of the vote. His "Hermanator" political action committee has taken in just over $16,000 this year. He said he's running "a bottoms-up, outside-the-box campaign." Supporters say he taps into the tea party-fueled desire for plain-speaking citizen candidates.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., and raised in Atlanta, Cain is the son of a chauffeur and a maid. He attended historically black Morehouse College, earned a master's degree from Purdue University and worked as a mathematician for the Navy before beginning to scale the corporate ladder.
He worked at Coca-Cola, Pillsbury and Burger King before taking the helm of the failing Godfather's Pizza franchise, which he rescued by shuttering hundreds of restaurants.
He burst onto the political stage when he argued with President Clinton over the Democrat's health care plan at a 1994 town hall meeting.
"On behalf of all of those business owners that are in a situation similar to mine," asked Cain, "my question is, quite simply, if I'm forced to do this, what will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?"
The late Jack Kemp, the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1996, once described Cain as having "the voice of Othello, the looks of a football player, the English of Oxfordian quality and the courage of a lion."
In 2006, Cain was diagnosed with liver and colon cancer. He says he's been cancer-free since 2007 and credits the nation's health care system with keeping him alive. He says it's one reason he's so opposed to the health overhaul championed by Obama.
At the speech, Cain tried to build a foundation for his run for the White House. He said the American dream is under attack from runaway debt, a stagnant economy, a muddled foreign policy and an influx of illegal immigrants. He said Americans should be infuriated because the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus program "didn't stimulate diddly."
"It's time to get real, folks. Hope and change ain't working," he said. "Hope and change is not a solution. Hope and change is not a job."
Online: Herman Cain: www.hermancain.com