Herman Cain — the maverick American business czar and Republican presidential candidate who campaigned for a sweeping tax reform plan called 9-9-9 — died Thursday morning after a monthlong battle with the coronavirus. He was 74.
Cain, who recently joined Newsmax TV and was set to launch a weekly show, died in an Atlanta-area hospital where he had been critically ill for several weeks.
He was admitted on July 1, two days after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Ten days before, Cain had attended a rally for President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
But it is not known for sure where Cain, co-chairman of Black Voices for Trump, was infected. He had been on a whirlwind travel schedule in June, stopping in multiple cities.
"He was one of the most original thinkers in American politics," veteran political consultant Dick Morris told Newsmax, noting "he was creative, had strong convictions, an open mind, and a deep sense of patriotism."
"He was a great friend, a great guy. Suddenly, the plague strikes home."
Cain was a self-made man with an extraordinary backstory — one that made him a towering example of hard work paying off.
He was born Dec. 13, 1945, in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up poor in Atlanta, Georgia, where his father worked three jobs — as a janitor, barber, and chauffeur — while his mother toiled as a domestic worker.
A stellar student who worked hard, Cain graduated from Morehouse College with a mathematics degree in 1967. A year later, he married Gloria Etchison, whom he met when he was a sophomore at Morehouse and she was a freshman at Morris Brown College.
Cain went on to earn a master's degree in computer science from Purdue University in 1971, and helped develop fire control ballistics for ships and fighter planes for the U.S. Navy.
Next, he joined The Coca-Cola Company as a systems analyst, and after considerable success, moved to Pillsbury.
After serving as regional vice president of Pillsbury's Burger King, Cain then took on the biggest challenge of his career as president and CEO of Godfather's Pizza, a national chain teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
In 14 months, he returned Godfather's to profitability and led his management team to a buyout of the company.
Later, Cain said he could explain his success at Godfather's Pizza in one word, "marketing."
Cain, who long held an interest in public policy, became chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Omaha Branch in 1995, serving in the position for 20 months.
In 2019, Trump nominated Cain to a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. But the nomination drew serious flak from Congress and Cain's detractors.
"Because I ran as a Republican for president and the United States Senate, and because I am an outspoken voice of conservatism, an outspoken voice of the Constitution and the laws, I'm being attacked," Cain said, shortly before asking the president to withdraw his nomination.
Cain's first dabbling into politics came in 1996, when he was tapped as senior adviser to the Dole/Kemp presidential campaign.
He ran for a Senate seat in Georgia in 2004, but was defeated in the Republican primary by Johnny Isakson.
In 2006, Cain was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer but, with aggressive treatment, was able to beat the disease.
In his book, "This Is Herman Cain!" he discussed his life-threatening illness, writing: "It's been more than six years since then. And guess what? I'm completely cancer-free! Cured! Why was I spared against those odds? God said, 'Not yet!'"
Cain told CNN he began mulling a run for office because, following his triumph over cancer, he felt he had to do "something bigger and bolder."
From 2008 to 2011, he hosted "The Herman Cain Show" on Atlanta radio station WSB. Then, in May 2011, he announced his candidacy for president as a conservative on the GOP ticket, his major campaign issue being the urgent need for top-to-bottom U.S. tax reform.
According to Cain, 9-9-9 would replace the current imbalanced, unfair tax code with three flat taxes: a 9% business transactions tax, a 9% personal income tax, and a 9% federal sales tax — a switch that would lead to great savings for taxpayers.
While his fellow candidates were skeptical of 9-9-9, the plan resonated with Americans and he soon, with the help of a strong Tea Party base, rose to the top of Republican polls in the race.
In October of 2011, a Public Policy Polling poll had him leading Mitt Romney by 8 percentage points — 30% to 22%.
"His proposal for 9-9-9 captured the public imagination for months. And it might still pave the way for a fundamental tax reform," Morris said.
During his run, Cain readily spoke his mind on a variety of subjects.
On Bloomberg View, he said: "The only tactic liberals have is to try to intimidate people into thinking that the Tea Party is racist. The Tea Party is not a racist movement, period! If it were, why would the straw polls keep showing that the black guy is winning? That's a rhetorical question.
"Let me state it: The black guy keeps winning."
In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Cain said: "Stupid people are ruining America."
And in a campaign event in South Carolina, Cain said: "If Obamacare had been fully implemented when I caught cancer, I'd be dead."
He was an unabashed social conservative, opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press "We have a war on our moral fiber. We will not allow the godless few to destroy our moral foundation."
"Herman Cain resonated with Americans at every level because they sensed his authenticity," Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax, said of his late friend. "He had a folksy, disarming appeal. You immediately felt his love of country and God."
This past February, Ruddy said he invited Cain to visit Mar-a-Lago and the Trump Golf Course in West Palm Beach, Florida.
"The president spotted Herman and yelled out '9-9-9,' and everyone roared with laughter," Ruddy said.
Cain reveled in Trump's business approach to politics and his independent style — one that mirrored his own.
"I'm not a professional politician. I'm a professional problem solver," he remarked.
Cain's meteoric political rise was cut short when he was forced to suspend his campaign in December 2011, after two women accused him of sexual harassment during his stint as CEO of the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999.
Despite his exit, Cain vehemently denied the charges, and his wife solidly stood by her man, insisting "he totally respects women."
After seeking the presidency, Cain formed Cain's Solutions Revolution, which worked with political and business leaders at the national level to promote problem-solving policy ideas.
He also served as an ordained associate minister at Antioch Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Cain had hosted a radio talk show and was a familiar face to cable news viewers.
In April, he joined Newsmax TV, saying he was "very excited" to be joining "one of America's leading cable news networks."
After he was hospitalized, Cain seemed to be responding to treatment, with his Twitter feed announcing that his breathing was "getting stronger every day. Make no mistake: He is improving!"
But in the past week, his health took a turn for the worse.
In one of his videos aired June 11 on his hermancain.com blog, Cain said: "We must continue to spread the coronavirus message: social distancing, sanitizing, hand-washing and masks. Don't take it for granted, take it seriously.''
Cain is survived by his wife Gloria, and two children, Vincent and Melanie, and four grandchildren.
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