For the first time in the 2012 GOP presidential contest, metro Atlanta entrepreneur Herman Cain has worked himself into the center of a national debate.
Tuesday’s GOP debate in New Hampshire, sponsored by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post, will be the fifth meeting of candidates, but the first to put a sole focus on the economy.
The debate could go a long way toward telling us whether Cain’s “999” plan – a 9 percent corporate income tax, a 9 percent personal income tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax – will hold up to intense scrutiny.
A spokesman for Dartmouth College, where the debate is to be held, said the candidates will be seated – no podium – according to their standings in a Bloomberg/Post national poll of 1,000 likely voters released Monday: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 24 percent of the vote, Cain with 16 percent, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 13 percent.
U.S. Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania finished in single digits – in that order.
When it comes to the economy, Cain inches even closer to Romney. When asked which candidate “would do the most to improve the economy,” Republican voters put Romney and Cain in a virtual tie, according to the Bloomberg/Washington Post survey.
In other words, when the red light blinks tonight, Cain will be at Romney’s right hand, at the center of the fight.
Unfortunately, the New Hampshire debate could also have the smallest TV viewership of any so far. And chances are that many of Cain’s home state supporters won’t be able to see it at all. On the Tube, the debate can be watched only on Bloomberg TV — available in most of the metro Atlanta area through several providers, including Comcast, DirectTV, Dish and AT&T U-verse.
For others, the Internet will have to do: www.bloomberg.com or www.washingtonpost.com.
Tonight’s drama, wherever you find it, is likely to be driven by the governor of Texas. The last two debate performances by Perry, who led the pack shortly after entering the contest in August, have caused his supporters to wince.
A brutal TV ad released by the Perry campaign on Monday, comparing Romney’s overhaul of Massachusetts’ health care system to President Barack Obama’s plan, indicates the Texas governor plans to take aim at the frontrunner:
But Cain would also be a tempting target. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza has proposed the most detailed economic plan of any GOP candidate. He himself has acknowledged that it would also be also the most earth-shaking.
But any GOP candidate who attacks Cain’s “999” plan is likely to do so from the right. A Republican crowd will have no patience for arguments that a 9 percent national consumption tax would weigh most heavily on the poor.
Dean Clancy at FreedomWorks, a Washington-based funder of many tea party activities, provided the blueprint last week.
While a fan of a lower corporate and personal income tax rate, Clancy pointed to the final “9” of Cain’s plan.
“[A]dding a national retail sales tax on top of the federal income tax (even a flat tax) is a bad idea, because it creates the infrastructure for a federal-level, European-style [value-added tax],” he wrote.
Cain will – as he has – argue that he’ll also require a two-thirds vote in Congress in order to raise his national sales tax.
But he – and all other candidates – will be selling to a highly skeptical public.
Asked if the current economy would be better under a Republican president, 23 percent of those polled in the Bloomberg/Washington Post survey said yes. But 25 percent said the economy would be worse, and 45 percent said it would make no difference.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider