When it came to choosing a Republican presidential nominee, Benjamin Franklin just couldn't commit.
"It's too early. There's so many qualified people," said Don Van Gogh, dressed up as the Founding Father at the Midwest tea party convention this weekend in Schaumburg.
But his fellow tea party members displayed no such indecisiveness, picking Herman Cain as the decisive winner in a straw poll. Cain, a former Godfather's Pizza CEO and radio talk show personality, has been building momentum since placing first in a similar poll in Florida a week earlier. On Saturday, he received 77 percent of the votes among TeaCon 2011 participants.
"A little bird told me there's some patriots here in Illinois," Cain said to a standing ovation. "Our biggest crisis is a severe leadership deficit in Washington, D.C. Stupid people are running America."
"I like that he's a businessman. He doesn't come off as a politician," Wauconda independent Glen Rowe said. "I feel we need more good, qualified business people to help run this country and relate to people in the middle."
"He's a no-nonsense, nonpolitician, and that's what we need," Jeri Towell of St. Charles said.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota came in second with 9.4 percent of the votes, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 3.8 percent. Trailing the leaders were Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 3 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 2.6 percent.
More than 700 people attended TeaCon 2011 at the Renaissance Hotel to hear rallying calls from 8th District U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a McHenry Republican, and Cain. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck headlined a dinner Saturday night.
"We have a built-in advantage in that no one understands us," Walsh said to applause. "Most people have no clue as to what the tea party movement is."
Illustrating schisms in the Republican Party, Walsh referred to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor as "good folks," but said, "The problem is they've been there too long and are afraid to fight for this country."
But it was a mostly unified tea party crowd who gave Cain standing ovation after standing ovation.
Cain spoke out in favor of the right to bear arms, throwing out the tax code and a more disciplined foreign policy.
"We need to clarify who our friends are, who our enemies are and stop giving money to our enemies. Israel is our friend," he said.
He called for a new tax system with a 9 percent flat tax on business, a 9 percent personal flat tax and 9 percent sales tax.
Cain "stands for the values we believe in like limited government, fiscal responsibility and the free market," Wauconda resident Barbara Babbey said.
"He has integrity, and he's unwavering," said Jim Carlin of Algonquin. Cain's only negative is a lack of foreign policy experience, and that could be compensated for by picking the right vice president, he said.
Jeff Schroeder of Lake Zurich was torn between Perry and Cain.
"I think he's honest," Schroeder said of Perry. The governor's comments about Social Security being a "Ponzi scheme" opened up a needed debate, he added. "We need to sit down and have that discussion and figure out how to make the country better."
Carole Howard of Chicago cast her vote for Gingrich. "I want to show there's interest in Newt," she said. "He's smart, and he's a visionary."
Beside Cain, Bachmann spoke to the crowd in a videotaped speech.
If elected president, "the Constitution will be my guide," she said to applause. "We've been taxed enough already. Government must not spend more than it takes in."
Mike Morand of Evanston clapped for Bachmann but is voting for Cain.
"I've always liked him because of his story," Morand said, adding he was disappointed by Perry and Romney bickering over the definition of a Ponzi scheme during debates. "Cain said, 'I don't care what you call it, let's fix it.' I want the name-calling to stop. I want to have an adult conversation," Morand added.
Walsh was "ambivalent" about the nominees, stressing the point was to beat President Barack Obama in 2012.
"Everyone has to get behind the nominee. If it's not Cain, if it's Romney or whoever, we've got to be excited," he said.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the hotel, including 8th Congressional District Democratic primary hopeful Raja Krishnamoorthi of Hoffman Estates.
"We feel it's extremely important to stand up to the tea party wherever they may be," Krishnamoorthi said. "Today they're in my backyard. It's really important for us to stand up for the middle class and folks being hurt by the tea party."
Tony Domino of Schaumburg carried a sign saying, "Joe Walsh Deadbeat Dad," referencing a lawsuit filed against Walsh by his former wife that contends he owes $117,000 in child support payments.
"I wanted to point out his hypocrisy," Domino said.
Walsh responded that "this is a tough issue. I've had to keep my mouth quiet for a month and a half. My kids are my life. I'm going to fight these charges, and pretty soon we'll have a response that will paint the whole picture."