Failed Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain defended soon-to-be GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney against 'birther' criticism he generated Friday for comments he made at a campaign event.
Cain, an African-American who for a time was leading the Republican field in polling before he was forced to suspend his candidacy due to sexual allegations, says it was clear to him Romney was merely playing up his own roots and not calling into account President Barack Obama's legitimacy.
"He talked about where he was born," says Cain, during an interview at the Atlanta airport just before he boarded a plane to Tampa ahead of the Republican National Convention.
"It's sad that he can't use the words 'I'm glad I was born here' and that gets turned into trying to bring up the whole birther issue. That's not the case," Cain says.
Romney appeared to take a swipe at Obama when he said "no one has asked to see my birth certificate" during a Michigan event. Obama has been dogged since the 2008 election by some on the fringe, as well as Donald Trump, who question whether or not he was born in the United States and therefore question his eligibility to serve as president. Many believe racism is behind the theory.
Cain also defended Vice President Joe Biden against charges of pulling race into the campaign when he told a mixed race audience that those who wanted to deregulate would "put y'all back in chains."
"As far as Joe Biden, he was trying to be funny and it failed," Cain says.
Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, will not be speaking during the convention, but he says he's not upset about it.
"It's not about me and I'm not disappointed," he says. "It's about Romney and Ryan defining who they are and what they are about and it's about the Republican Party defining what it stands for."
The ego blow is softened by the fact that he's headlining a Tea Party-centric "unity" rally on Sunday night, the eve before the convention formally begins.
"The big Sunday night unity rally, I'll be there, I helped to put that together. So I am still very supportive of the ultimate objective," Cain says.
Cain says he's feeling great about the Republican chances for winning back the White House, buoyed in part by Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running-mate.
"Love it," Cain says of Ryan. "He's got experience dealing with budgets, he gets it when it comes to solving a problem and I love the analytical side of him."
Romney's task during his convention speech is to offer voters specifics, Cain says.
"The best thing Mitt Romney can say in his speech is quite frankly how he will do things differently to put this country on a different track. He has to be specific," he says. "That's the best thing he can say to the American people, that's what they are hungry for."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.