ATLANTA - The wheel of fortune has landed on Herman Cain's number, putting him at the top of the Republican primary race, prompting pundits and political junkies to question whether it will keep spinning around to another candidate.
In a contest that has seen the wheel favor Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, it's understandable to expect Cain to lose favor as easily as he gained it. However, some factors may encourage the wheel to stop on his number, at least for a while.
Georgia Republicans who remember Cain's 2004 primary campaign for the U.S. Senate seat, which Johnny Isakson ultimately won, recognize the public-speaking skills and personal charm he exhibited then. They also see the growth in a candidate who is both better organized and better informed on the issues.
He has already participated in more nationally televised debates than most presidential nominees of the 20th century and has yet to suffer the kinds of gaffes in them that deflated Perry's support.
Instead, Cain has been the darling of several debates, helping him to gain recognition and break from the pack.
This steady stream of debates is one of the factors going for him. Where past campaigns have required huge sums for paid media to establish name identification and positioning, not to mention message delivery, this year's endless cable-television debates are doing it for free.
That confounds the evaluation most pundits use in determining the viability of candidates, organizational strength and fundraising potential. That computation makes Mitt Romney, last cycle's runner-up, the most viable Republican this year in the eyes of those prognosticators.
The unusual number of debates - at which Cain excels - makes money slightly less important this cycle.
Cain has assets that don't show up in the typical campaign ledgers. His early support from the tea party movement gives him grassroots muscle that's less evident to political observers as does his four years in Iowa in the food business in a region where the pizza chain he ran is popular.
Plus, this year's chaotic primary schedule where states are still jockeying dates could nullify the organizational firepower of any candidate who guesses wrong about the order in which the voting eventually falls.
Plenty of Republicans said privately in 2008 that they were eager to break the color barrier at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. but only for the right candidate.
A black nominee gives the GOP an avenue to attract conservative blacks who were torn four years earlier between loyalty to their race and adherence to their political philosophy.
Cain has enough going for him that he could have more staying power than the average flavor of the month.
Reach Walter Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org, (404) 589-8424 or on Twitter @MorrisNews.