ATLANTA – A famed black restaurateur from Atlanta is joining Georgia's crowded race for U.S. Senate.
Herman Cain (search), who once ran the Nebraska-based Godfather's Pizza chain, wants Zell Miller's Senate seat. But he has never run for office before, and he must beat two sitting congressmen and another black businessman to get the Republican nomination in 2004.
"He's a very qualified, winnable candidate," said Alex St. James, director of the African American Republican Leadership Council (search) in Washington.
The race is the first statewide election in post-Reconstruction Georgia to pit two black Republicans against each other. Cain will face fellow Atlanta businessman Al Bartell (search), who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor last year.
Cain, 57, had a hardscrabble childhood in Atlanta, but worked his way throughMorehouse College (search). He worked for Burger King and The Pillsbury Co. before taking the helm of a struggling pizza chain in 1986.
Within two years, Godfather's Pizza was out of debt, and he bought the Omaha, Neb.-based pizza chain from Pillsbury for $50 million.
Cain's resume includes a short time as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City (search), Mo., and as co-chairman of Steve Forbes' 2000 presidential bid. He's also a motivational speaker and author of three leadership books.
Cain was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment. He filed as a candidate last week.
Despite his personal fortune, the businessman is new to Georgia politics and faces a struggle to win the nomination.
Also in the bidding are U.S. Reps. Johnny Isakson (search) and Mac Collins (search), both seasoned state politicians from Atlanta's Republican-leaning suburbs. But Georgia Republican Chairman Alec Poitevint said the two black candidates have a decent shot.
"It's wide open," Poitevint said. "We have been proactive for a long period of time to let people know our party is open."
Cain could get a boost from Georgia's open primaries, where people may vote in a party's primary without joining it. That means blacks who traditionally vote Democratic could vote for Cain in the GOP primary.
"We could see a lot of participation here," St. James said. "But he's not running as an African-American. He's running as a Georgian. This is not about a black man running for the U.S. Senate."
Bartell praised Cain even though he's running against him and said they could draw record numbers of blacks to the state GOP.
"African-Americans need a seat at all tables," he said. "We're black, we're Republicans and they're listening to us. That's something people pick up on."