Herman Cain's campaign staff say they've been raising money hand over fist in recent weeks, especially since his sexual harassment scandal broke. But don't be deceived: a wave of donations is hardly a sign things are turning around.
Since October 1, staff say they've raised $9 million and they've bragged about huge one-day hauls throughout the recent media frenzy. Aides told Bloomberg News that $1.6 million came in the five days after the scandal broke alone. Given that only Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have cracked the $10 million mark for an entire quarterly take so far, that's some serious change.
"The day of the firestorm of these accusations, we had the highest fundraising day online in the history of this campaign and it has not stopped," Cain told Jimmy Kimmel this week. "The American people are saying ‘we are sick of gutter politics and it is not going to work' and they've basically said they're sick of it with their money."
But if a widely criticized anti-establishment candidate putting up huge grassroots fundraising figures sounds familiar, it's because it is. And these stories often don't have a happy ending.
Take Sharron Angle, whose fringe views and brutal gaffes singlehandedly cost Republicans Harry Reid's Senate seat in 2010, a seat that Democrats had no business holding onto given the toxic political environment that year. While establishment Republicans cringed at Angle's string of mistakes, her red meat rhetoric and perceived lack of respect by the mainstream press galvanized grassroots conservatives donors, who helped her raise over $28 million. That's over $3 million more than Reid raised, whose position as one the most powerful legislators in the nation made him a magnet for influential contributors.
The same pattern played out that year in Delaware with Christine O'Donnell, whose surprise primary victory against overwhelming general election favorite Mike Castle handed Democrats a crucial Senate seat. While her infamously nutty campaign and major ethics issues made her candidacy a lost cause from the start, her humiliation in the press turned her into a martyr for Tea Party Republicans, who filled her coffers with $7.5 million. That was almost double the amount raised by her opponent, Chris Coons, who ended up winning by a 17-point margin.
And it's not just on the right where populist fringe candidates can rack up gigantic donations even as they speed towards their electoral doom. Democratic firebrand Alan Grayson raised almost $6 million in 2010, a gigantic number for a freshman Congressman, and bragged about his cash haul at every opportunity until he was wiped out by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL).
Now Cain, whose campaign had only limited success raising money until now, is using his surge in donations to prove his continued viability. Given the last election cycle, however, it could be interpreted more like an ominous kiss of death.