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Tea party fuels rise of Herman Cain. So how can it be racist?

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Scott Eells/REUTERS

(Read caption) Republican presidential hopeful businessman Herman Cain speaks as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman listens at the Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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Back in March, when he was simply one among many candidates vying for the top spot in the GOP presidential contest, former pizza magnate and Atlanta talk show host Herman Cain wrote about his relationship with tea party voters: "Could the people who are part of this massive citizens' movement be looking past the color of my skin?"

As Mr. Cain surged for the first time to the top of the GOP field in one poll on Thursday, buttressed by strong tea party support, his rhetorical question appears prophetic. A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll gave Cain a 69 percent "favorable" score among tea-party backers.

Most tea partyers credit the blunt, plainspoken, and happily iconoclastic Cain for being "real" and "not a politician" as the cornerstones of their support. But to many who decry the charge that the tea party is racist, Cain's rise is a none-too-subtle pushback.

"I find it funny that the 'racist' tea party is now rallying behind a black candidate," said one female tea party adherent from Texas who responded to the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.

Cain's surge this week provided a new twist on the notion that the tea party is merely hiding its racism behind a black candidate, as some critics have contended.

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