- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. — Herman Cain’s signature “9-9-9” tax-reform plan has been the battle cry accompanying his meteoric rise through the Republican presidential ranks. But political insiders in New Hampshire say the simple formula that has helped propel his candidacy also could derail it.

Mr. Cain says the plan, which would replace the federal tax system with a 9 percent sales tax on new goods, a 9 percent personal income tax and a 9 percent tax on business income, is the kind of bold economic solution voters are demanding.

But the call for a national sales tax could chase away the very limited-government voters Mr. Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, will need to capture as he tries to outflank Mitt Romney, who easily has been the most consistent Republican in the field.

“Anytime you are proposing any kind of new taxes, it is very hard to explain to voters, and it makes it an easy thing for your opponents to attack — particularly in New Hampshire, where there is no sales tax,” said Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College. “And it is risky to start proposing stuff like that in the middle of the campaign — things that haven’t been vetted.”

That will serve as part of the backdrop when Mr. Cain and his GOP rivals take the stage Tuesday night for a debate in Las Vegas.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain greets supporters during a campaign appearance Saturday ... more >

Mr. Cain likely will have to address the politics of his plan once again, including whether Nevada voters have any appetite for lumping a federal sales tax onto their local rate.

“No taxes sell with the primary voters here,” said David F. Damore, a political science professor at the University of Las Vegas. “We already have one of the highest sales taxes in the country. In Clark County, it is 8.1 percent.”

Campaigning in New Hampshire last week, Mr. Cain acknowledged he will have to sell “9-9-9.”

“I know it’s going to be an uphill battle … because it is so different,” he said. “We start with ‘throw out the current tax code,’ where most people don’t know what’s in it anyway. Most people can’t even tell you what their effective tax rate is. This one is visible, simple, transparent, efficient and fair. Not fair according to Washington’s definition; fair according to the definition of Webster’s.”

Beyond his tax plan, Mr. Cain also faces questions about whether his campaign is built for the long haul of a presidential campaign. At this point, he lacks the financial muscle and ground organizations that historically are needed to counter attacks and win support in the early primary contests.

In New Hampshire, which could hold the first primary in less than two months, yard signs for Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Gary E. Johnson dotted the neighborhood streets last week, but Cain signs were noticeably missing.

Still, he won a surprise victory at a Florida straw poll last month, and his support nationwide has been climbing, particularly as backing for Texas Gov. Rick Perry has dropped.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday found that among potential primary voters nationwide, 26 percent support Mr. Romney and 25 percent support Mr. Cain. Mr. Perry has fallen to a distant third place, at 13 percent. A Rasmussen Reports poll, meanwhile, showed Mr. Cain ahead of President Obama in a hypothetical matchup.

Cain now has the chance to make the case for why he should be the challenger to Mitt Romney,” said Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “Many others have auditioned for the role and fallen flat, and it remains to be seen whether Cain’s fate will be similar.”

As Mr. Cain has risen in the polls, his campaign and his 9-9-9 plan are under more scrutiny.

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