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Coronavirus Victims: Former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain


Herman Cain, who launched a memorable but unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, has died. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO-turned-politician had been hospitalized since early this month with COVID-19. He was 74 years old. NPR's Don Gonyea has this report.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: From the beginning, Herman Cain was no typical politician.


HERMAN CAIN: Aw shucky ducky (ph), as the man would say.

GONYEA: That's him announcing his presidential run in May of 2011.


CAIN: I stand here today as the son of a chauffeur and a domestic worker.

GONYEA: It was a crowded GOP field that year, and for months, Cain was an also-ran. But the businessman hammered and hammered away at one simple idea, something he called his 9-9-9 plan.


CAIN: This economy is on life support. That's why my 9-9-9 plan is a bold solution.

GONYEA: This is from a debate on Fox News.


CAIN: Nine percent business flat tax, 9% personal income tax and a 9% national sales tax.

GONYEA: Cain's GOP opponents attacked, saying it would mean higher taxes for many Americans. Then there was foreign policy, where Cain even joked about how little he knew. This was on the Christian Broadcasting Network.


CAIN: And when they ask me who's the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan (ph), I'm going to say, you know, I don't know. Do you know? And then I'm going to say, how's that going to create one job?

GONYEA: But none of it seemed to hurt him in the polls, not even allegations of sexual harassment from his time as a CEO. Instead, his support grew until he led the field in Iowa by the fall. Back then, pollster Scott Rasmussen talked to NPR.


SCOTT RASMUSSEN: Well, it's almost as if they're saying, we know that Herman Cain has had some trouble talking about issues like Afghanistan and abortion. He's having trouble responding to these allegations. But then again, he couldn't possibly do any worse than the guys that have driven us so far in debt over the past few generations.

GONYEA: That could just as easily describe the way Donald Trump supporters talked about him four years later. Through it all, Herman Cain seemed to have as much fun running for president as anyone ever had - until he didn't. His disorganized campaign and those harassment allegations caught up with him. This was on Fox News.


CAIN: As long as I was still low in the polls relative to the Republican nomination, this stuff didn't come out.

GONYEA: He denied any wrongdoing but still dropped out before the Iowa caucuses. Cain went back to a previous career, a talk radio show. In recent years, there was a podcast.


CAIN: Aw shucky ducky. This is "The Herman Cain Show."

GONYEA: Just last year, President Trump nominated Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve. But when some Republicans voiced concerns, he withdrew. He had been in the hospital for almost a month battling COVID-19. Cain was in attendance at that Trump arena rally in Tulsa in late June. He was photographed in the crowd, no face mask, not social distancing. It's not known if that's where he caught the virus. Today, his one-time opponent Mitt Romney tweeted out condolences, expressing sadness and adding, quote, "St. Peter will soon hear 9-9-9."

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIEN MARCHAL'S "INSIGHT I") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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