The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
WASHINGTON — The evolution of Herman Cain from Morehouse man to corporate CEO to political celebrity to presidential candidate continued Monday as leader of a Capitol Hill rally to promote Republican office-seekers and his 9-9-9 tax plan.
Olivier Douliery, MCT
Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain attends a Revolution on the Hill Tax Day Rally at the Capitol on the West Lawn, Monday, April 16, 2012, in Washington, D.C.
The tea party-themed rally drew about 200 people, far less than Cain’s usual campaign trail crowds, but he said the Cain Solutions Revolution will play a big role in this year’s elections.
Speaking to reporters after the rally, Cain said the event — which also included a morning seminar at an Arlington, Va., hotel — was a success in bringing together tea party leaders from different parts of the country who can return home to spread the word.
“I’m not disappointed with the number of the people we had here today,” he said. “Remember, it only takes a few passionate people to create a movement and to succeed.”
The movement is centered on a complete rewrite of the tax code to produce a plan that features a flat 9 percent income tax, 9 percent business tax and 9 percent federal sales tax.
The plan has been attacked from the right as opening the door to a European-style consumption tax that could increase in the future. From the left, foes criticize 9-9-9 as a tremendous tax break for the wealthy balanced out by a new sales tax on everyone.
Cain claimed he will triumph where other efforts to overhaul the tax code have failed by better marketing to the public through radio, television and a series of avant-garde Internet videos that have included a man shooting a bunny and chickens mauling a human to illustrate an oppressive tax code.
Other efforts “didn’t have a movement with an organization and a number of supporters like you and someone with a big mouth like me,” Cain said in Arlington. The morning event featured a series of speeches, mostly from conservative commentators who were selling their books in the lobby. Cain, too, is promoting a new book due out in May: “9-9-9: An Army of Davids.”
The afternoon rally, under sweltering heat that drove many attendees to nearby shade trees, brought out figures such as powerful anti-tax activist Grover Norquist; Ralph Reed, a Georgian and former head of the Christian Coalition; and Atlanta radio host Neal Boortz.
Cain also drew a few of the congressional candidates who have endorsed his 9-9-9 plan, including Michigan U.S. Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra. The former nine-term congressman said Cain recently accompanied him for a day on the campaign trail.
“When Herman Cain comes out and supports Pete Hoekstra, that’s a nice introduction to a lot of voters that I’m going to need this fall,” Hoekstra said during an interview. “So that gives me some instant credibility and some instant visibility with those folks, so that helps.”
Cain also said he is committed to helping former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney win the presidency. President Barack Obama’s name was frequently mentioned throughout the day, as speakers foretold a grim future if he wins a second term. Romney’s name came up sparingly, to muted reactions from the tea party crowd.
Political strategist Dick Morris said Romney will be “one of the absolutely terrific great presidents of the United States of America — before Herman Cain gets there.” This line drew a few scattered claps, to which Morris replied: “If you’re tepiding your applause, you’re wrong.” Morris finally earned a cheer when he added: “He’s going to beat Obama.”
After the rally, Cain said a big part of his mission this year will be to build enthusiasm for Romney, the all-but-certain Republican nominee. The McDonough businessman had endorsed fellow Georgian Newt Gingrich in the GOP primaries, but he acknowledged the former U.S. House speaker does not have much hope left to claim the nomination. “It would take an absolute long-shot mix-up of everything happening at the convention,” Cain said.
Cain said he will seek to build support for Romney within the tea party and in nontraditional Republican constituencies such as college students and minorities, with a pitch focused on Obama.
“Mitt Romney, despite whether you are excited about him or not, is 200 percent better than who we have in the White House right now,” Cain said. “So one of my messages is people are going to have to put aside any of those feelings or we’re going to end up with Barack Obama for another four years.”
Larry Sabato, the head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, wrote in an email that Cain’s sizable name recognition and passionate following are an asset.
“Cain will have some influence, and if he gets enthused about Romney or other GOP candidates this fall, it may have some impact on whether his followers do,” Sabato said. “I think that’s about the extent of it.”
Among the faithful who made the trip to Washington, the passion was evident. Carol Latus, who rode a bus down from Michigan, said she had never given to a political campaign before dipping into her savings for Cain. She started choking up when talking about the importance of Cain’s cause to her.
“It’s all so inspiring,” she said.
Cain took the podium with the Capitol at his back after about 2 1/2 hours of speeches and songs, with the crowd having somewhat dwindled in the heat. He asked the crowd to applaud one man dressed in Colonial garb and another dressed as Captain America, both waving large American flags.
“As we build this grass-roots army of Davids to put pressure on the people who occupy the offices behind us, that’s how we’re going to get it done, and that’s why I did not go silent after I dropped out of the presidential race,” he said. “And I am not going to go silent. We are going to continue to build it.”