In January 2011, Cain announced he had formed an exploratory committee for a potential candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
BusinessAfter completing his master's degree from Purdue, Cain left the Department of the Navy and began working for Coca-Cola as a business analyst. In 1977, he joined Pillsbury where he rose to the position of vice president by the early 1980s. He left his executive post to work for Burger King – a Pillsbury subsidiary at the time – managing 400 stores in the Philadelphia area. Under Cain's leadership, his region went from the least profitable for Burger King to the most profitable in three years. This prompted Pillsbury to appoint him president and CEO of Godfather's Pizza, another of their then-subsidiaries. Within 14 months, Cain had returned Godfather's to profitability. In 1988, Cain and a group of investors bought Godfather's from Pillsbury. Cain continued as CEO until 1996, when he resigned to become CEO of the National Restaurant Association – a trade group and lobby organization for the restaurant industry – where he had previously been chairman concurrently with his role at Godfather's.
Radio talk showCain hosted The Herman Cain Show on Atlanta talk radio station News Talk 750 WSB, a CNN radio affiliate until February 2011 and serves as a commentator for Fox News Business and a syndicated columnist distributed by the North Star Writers Group. In 2009, Cain founded "Hermanator's Intelligent Thinkers Movement" (HITM), aimed at organizing 100,000 activists in every congressional district in the United States in support of a strong national defense, the FairTax, tax cuts, energy independence, capping government spending, and Restructuring Social Security.
Role in the defeat of the Clinton health care planCain has been cited as one of the primary opponents of the 1993/1994 health care plan of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton:
- The Clintons would later blame "Harry and Louise," the fictional couple in the ads aired by the insurance industry, for undermining health reform. But the real saboteurs are named Herman and John. Herman Cain is the president of Godfather's Pizza and president-elect of the National Restaurant Association. An articulate black entrepreneur, Cain transformed the debate when he challenged Clinton at a town meeting in Kansas City, Mo., last April. Cain asked the president what he was supposed to say to the workers he would have to lay off because of the cost of the "employer mandate." Clinton responded that there would be plenty of subsidies for small businessmen, but Cain persisted. "Quite honestly, your calculation is inaccurate," he told the president. "In the competitive marketplace it simply doesn't work that way."
2004 U.S. Senate candidacyIn 2004, Cain ran for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, pursuing the seat that came open with the retirement of Democrat Zell Miller. Cain sought the Republican nomination, facing congressmen Johnny Isakson and Mac Collins in the primary. Cain and Collins both hoped to deny Isakson a majority on primary day in order to force him into a runoff. Collins tried to paint Cain as a moderate, citing Cain's support for affirmative action programs, while Cain argued that he was a conservative, noting that he opposed the legality of abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Cain finished second in the primary with 26.2% of the vote, ahead of Collins, who won 20.6%, but because Isakson won 53.2% of the vote, Isakson was able to avoid a runoff.
Support for gold standardHerman Cain announced his support of the gold standard on a radio program in late 2010:
"Yes I believe in the gold standard. We should have never gotten off the gold standard because when we got off the gold standard, that then allowed Congress to inflate our currency whenever they overspent. Now look at the mess that we have."
However, in early 2011, Cain stated on his radio show that there was no need for an audit of the Federal Reserve.
2012 presidential candidacyIn 2010, "Cain addressed more than 40 Tea Party rallies, hit all the early presidential states, and became a YouTube sensation." In April, he teased the audience at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference about his being a possible 2012 presidential candidate by saying that there may be a "dark horse candidate." On September 24, 2010, Cain announced that he was considering a run for president in 2012 on the Republican Party ticket. "In December, he was the surprise choice for 2012 GOP nominee in a reader poll on the conservative Web site RedState.com, narrowly edging out Palin."
Cain announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on January 12, 2011 on the Fox News Channel's Your World with Neil Cavuto.
Cain supports a non-federally subsidized efficient economic stimulus, saying: "We could grow this economy faster if we had bolder, more direct stimulus policies," criticizing President Barack Obama's stimulus plan as simply a "spending bill" instead of meaningful stimulus through permanent tax cuts.
In December 2010, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review wrote of Cain: "it’s hard to imagine him amounting to more than an exciting also-ran."
In February 2011, Cain addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Ed Morrisey of the conservative website Hot Air said he "stole the show" and that some attendees were moved to tears by the speech. In contrast, liberal website AlterNet accused Cain of pandering to white conservatives and referred to him and other black conservatives as "garbage pail kids". Cain called the news website's attacks racist and condemned its "shameful behavior".
After defending himself against accusations of racism, Cain provoked controversy when he specifically stated that he would be willing to discriminate on grounds of religion when appointing members to his Cabinet, were he elected President, refusing to consider candidates if they were Muslim, on the grounds that such a candidate may support Sharia law. 
After the May 5, 2011 Fox News sponsored Presidential debate, Cain was declared the winner by pollster Frank Luntz.