- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2011

HANOVER, N.H. — Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain learned last night what it’s like to sit among the top tier of candidates in the GOP presidential race, as his rivals poked fun at and dismissed his “9-9-9” tax plan, which he argues would kick-start economic growth.

In the opening minutes of Tuesday night’s debate, Mr. Cain found himself on the receiving end of some stiff criticism from his GOP rivals over his plan to replace the current tax code with a personal income tax of 9 percent and a 9 percent national sales tax. By the end of the night, just about everyone had taken a shot at the proposal.

“I think it’s a catchy phrase — in fact, I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it,” quipped former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. minutes after former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum suggested the plan would either die in Congress or hand Democrats another way of taxing Americans.

When the issue resurfaced later in the debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann said Mr. Cain’s economic approach is “not a jobs plan — it is a tax plan.”

“If you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it around, the devil is in the details,” the three-term Minnesota congresswoman joked.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks Tuesday night as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens during a GOP debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (Associated Press)
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks Tuesday night as former Massachusetts Gov. ... more >

Mr. Cain, though, proved quick on his feet throughout the evening.

His claimed that U.S. voters want a bold economic plan and 9-9-9 offers just that. Asked about a recent Bloomberg News analysis that found his plan would not be revenue neutral, Mr. Cain quickly brushed aside the criticism, saying “the problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect.”

“[The plan] 9-9-9 will pass, and it is not the price of a pizza, because it has been well studied and well developed,” he said, adding at one point that the issue highlights the difference between, “me, the non-politician, and all of the politicians.”

The exchanges reflected how the dynamics of the Republican race have changed since the candidates last met in Florida.

With polls now showing him as a legitimate rival for Mr. Romney’s front-runner status, Mr. Cain found himself targeted by questioners more than Rick Perry, the three-term Texas governor who has been dogged by underwhelming debate performances.

Mr. Perry returned repeatedly throughout the evening to his forthcoming energy independence plan. 

Pressed for details, Mr. Perry said, “I’m not going to lay it all out for you tonight. Mitt’s had six years to be working on a plan I’ve been in this for about 8 weeks.”

Mr. Huntsman squeezed in a dig at Mr. Perry with a suble reference to the “Mormon” issue. 

Mr. Huntsman, who like Mr. Romney is a Mormon, introduced a question to the former Massachusetts governor by saying: “I promise this will not be about religion.” 

When the audience responded to that line with a collective “oooooh,” the former Utah governor turned to Mr. Perry and said, “Sorry about that, Rick.” 

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