There was one clear winner from Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, based on the simple metrics of name recognition: businessman Herman Cain's "9-9-9 Plan."
Virtually all the candidates at the debate table had something to say about Cain's plan to replace the tax code with three, flat nine-percent federal taxes on consumption, business and income. Cain, once delegated to the remote wings of the debate stage, has enjoyed a surge in the polls ever since he won the straw poll in Orlando, Fla., last month, and at the first debate since he joined former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the top tier, Cain and his policy proposals took up more of the debate's time than the ideas floated by any other candidate.
Of course, this isn't to say that any of them praised Cain's idea. Far from it. In fact, everyone who had an opportunity took shots at the plan.
Former Utah Gov. Huntsman reduced it to "a catchy phrase" and joined former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in saying it would never be signed into law.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney suggested that the 9-9-9 scheme would be "inadequate" to solve the nation's problems.
"Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems," Romney said when Cain asked if he could name every single one of the 59-points in his economic plan. "And I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate."
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann even made a joke that referenced the mark of Satan from the Book of Revelation.
"You turn the 9-9-9 plan upside down, and the devil's in the details," referring to the number "666"--the mark of the beast described in Revelation.
But none of his detractors were able to stop Cain from repeating the line all night. Perhaps not anticipating that the candidates would spend their own time discussing Cain's proposal, the moderators ran a pre-arranged clip of Cain touting it a few weeks ago and asked all the candidates to comment on it. Again. So they did, and the "9-9-9 Plan" got a fresh dose of air time.
It was as if every time the candidates mentioned those words--"9-9-9"--Cain got a little more powerful.
This is one marketing scheme, however, that won't last without an upgrade.
One independent analysis of the Cain's plan suggests that it would not create enough revenue to sustain the government's most basic functions. When asked about this, Cain simply dismissed the premise and repeated the "9-9-9" pitch.
"The problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect," Cain said, dismissively.
If he wants to stay in the top tier, he'll have to come up with something better than that. As a lesser-known candidate who only received precious few opportunities to speak in past debates, he could say his bit about the 9-9-9 Plan, and the moderator would move on. But the platform he has earned by landing at the top will require him to expand on his ideas and even come up with new ones.
But at least for tonight, everyone's talking about the 9-9-9 plan, and Cain couldn't have asked for a better gift from his opponents.
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