You don’t have to bite the bait.

You don’t have to bite the bait.

It is a measure of his tenacity and determination that Herman Cain is still in the game and now rising in the polls.

His first debate performances were unsteady. His campaign has been forced to run on fumes at times as he scrambled for money. He’s had some embarrassing staff departures, some of whom sniped at him on their way out the door.

He is now enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, which may last a lot longer if he rises to the occasion—for he has an interesting narrative, an engaging personality and a refreshing authenticity. He is comfortable in his own skin, an eloquent speaker and last night in New York City he had a normally sedate group of conservative leaders on their feet.

He had the crowd because he was on message, offered substance and delivered his remarks with passion, eloquence and without notes.

I said on message. Such is perhaps the greatest challenge of any candidate for public office who is under the spotlight, going from speech to speech, interview to interview, enduring a grinding schedule of back to back television interviews.

Mr. Cain faced that challenge last Sunday morning in a Fox TV interview when asked about Rick Perry’s hunting camp. Mr. Cain took the bait, and used the occasion to jab at Perry for his “racial insensitivity.” The problem is that there is no proof that Perry or his family had anything to do with what some idiot painted on a rock years before the Perry’s father began leasing a piece of ground in West Texas.

In taking the bait, Cain poked a candidate whose supporters he needs, and spent time talking about a subject that doesn’t gain him votes in Republican presidential primary.  Mr. Cain could have easily deflected the question, allowing that Governor Perry’s account differed from that reported in the newspaper and then steered the discussion back to a subject that actually gains him votes—his jobs plan, his tax reform plan, dumping Obamacare, etc.

In a multi-candidate field, air time is precious. And staying on message and on a topic that gets you votes is essential. Sometimes that means declining the bait and the invitation to discuss a matter irrelevant to your mission.

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