Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain offered his plan for an economic recovery during a rally Friday at Winthrop University, where he charmed an audience with punchy campaign lines, a commanding voice and witty quips.
The Georgia businessman made Rock Hill his last stop on the first day of a two-day tour of South Carolina. About 150 people came to hear the GOP presidential hopeful speak in the DiGiorgio Campus Center ballroom.
Cain's style which he said has "brevity" had the audience clapping and laughing throughout his speech.
Cain quickly attacked President Barack Obama for not "working on the right problem" and for not pushing his own tax reform ideas. Instead, the president is offering Americans "the same old spending proposals," he said.
"This economy is on life support," he said. What it needs is "the right fuel in the engine."
"All the policies of this administration has put more stuff in the caboose!" he said.
Cain touted his plan to "throw out the current tax code" and create a new tax system called the 9-9-9 plan.
The plan would tax business and personal income at a flat rate of 9 percent, ending payroll taxes. Taxable income would include "gross income less all investments, all purchases from other businesses and all dividends paid to shareholders," according to a Cain campaign flier.
Cain also would push a national sales tax of 9 percent "on all goods and services" except some "used" goods such as cars or homes, he said.
Consumers would pay the national tax rate on top of whatever state and local sales taxes require, he said after the talk.
Cain said taxing personal and business income and sales would widen the tax base.
When asked whether workers making at or near the poverty line would benefit from increased sales tax and his other tax reform proposals, he responded: "No matter how much you make, you're going to pay less."
The move would allow the nation to benefit from untapped markets, including the "underground market," he said.
"If a drug dealer goes out and buys a Mercedes, we're going to get some of that money," he said.
Cain touched on immigration reform, stressing the need to enforce the path to citizenship already available and to allow states to enforce immigration laws.
On foreign policy, he said the nation needs to identify its "friends" and "enemies." He criticized Obama, arguing that the president's position on Israel hasn't been clear.
To a standing ovation, Cain said what his stance would be toward Israel: "If you mess with Israel, you are messing with the United States of America!"
The associate minister at his church, Cain momentarily touched on faith, saying some people in America are "trying to take God out of our culture little by little" who must not be pushed against, but fought.
Cain has served on several boards addressing business and tax issues and now works as a business consultant and conservative radio talk show host.
Having never served in public office, Cain promoted what some have called obstacle to his bid for the White House, criticizing Washington insiders for doing a poor job.
People say, "Since you have never run for public office, you don't know how Washington works," Cain said. "My response is: Yes I do - it doesn't!"
In fact, Cain has run twice for public office. He briefly ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, and in 2004, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, pursuing the seat that came open with the retirement of Democrat Zell Miller. Cain sought the Republican nomination and finished second in a three-way primary race.
The mood at Winthrop on Friday remained light and lively.
When one audience member asked him how he managed to speak without teleprompters, Cain, without missing a beat, leaned over and pretended to hunt for one in a fern by the podium. The crowd again erupted in laughter.
Lynn Viets, a retired school teacher in economics, was "impressed" with Cain who had "a lot of answers I haven't heard from other candidates."
Cain would be a "team player" in Washington and his successful business career shows he's a "proven leader," Gloria Hein said.
But being impressed by Cain didn't mean a sure vote in his favor for Viets and Hein, both of Lake Wylie.
Getting ahead in the GOP field dominated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will be difficult, said Adolphus Belk Jr., associate professor of political science at Winthrop.
"If you want to box with Obama you need to be able to raise some serious money," Belk said.