Herman Cain takes the stage

By Patrick Svitek

Herman Cain takes the stage

Near the end of his speech at Northwestern U. Tuesday, former presidential candidate Herman Cain paused for about 10 seconds before doing something most politicians shy away from — repeating a gaffe.

“Someone once wrote, ‘Life can be a challenge,’” he began, pausing as laughter built up among some audience members who immediately recognized the inspirational quote.

Its origin: A song on the “Pokemon” movie soundtrack, which Cain famously referenced when he told supporters he would be dropping out of the Republican presidential primary late last year.

“You are in college,” Cain continued Tuesday, “which means that, in 2000, you were watching ‘Pokemon!’ I was trying to make me some money while you were watching ‘Pokemon.’”

It was a fitting conclusion to a 45-minute speech that caught the eccentric, rambunctious conservative in full form: rattling off blunt advice to the hundreds of students in attendance — “Graduate, OK?” — bemoaning that “stupid people are ruining America,” and stumping for his 9-9-9 tax plan.

At one point, Cain excused himself as he gauged the audience reaction to his animated remarks on the separation of church and state.

“I’m not mad, y’all,” he said. “I’m just passionate about this thing!”

NU College Republicans President Dane Stier said Cain was the perfect combination of entertaining speaker and insightful politician.

“He has interesting things to say, and obviously everybody wants to hear him,” Stier said. “Most of the people who signed up to come are liberals who don’t agree with what he says, but they’re excited to come and see him.”

College Republicans adjusted the event’s entrance policy last week after what Stier called a “high degree of interest” from students, setting aside 325 free tickets for guaranteed seating. Those tickets were all claimed within the hour they were released May 2, and an additional 75 attendees were let in minutes before Cain took the stage Tuesday.

Cain, the former CEO and owner of Godfather’s Pizza, charted his personal and professional journey to the top post at the National Restaurant Association, including his bout with Stage 4 colon cancer and every management gig along the way.

He repeatedly told the nearly 400 students in Fisk Hall’s second-floor auditorium that “success comes in a zig zag, not a straight line.” Students especially have to set goals, because “goals are stepping stones to dreams,” he added.

Echoing his now-defunct campaign’s central planks, Cain pinpointed three areas of concern in the country’s current state: the economic, energy and spending crises.

“Yes, we have some other problems, but if we don’t fix those three, folks, this nation is headed off a cliff,” he said.

In the 15-minute Q-and-A segment that followed his speech, Cain took credit for forcing other candidates to be “more bold” in their platforms during the Republican primary, as well as injecting “a little bit of a sense of humor” into the political horse race.

Cain, who endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich earlier this year, called presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney a “very bright, very articulate” problem-solver with the business experience needed to run the country.

Still, Cain said the GOP race could have played out in a different way.

“I talk to groups a lot, and some people are still upset that their favorite candidate didn’t get the nomination,” he said, setting up one of the night’s loudest applause lines. “Mine didn’t either — me!”

Some students were less amused by Cain’s rhetoric, which he repeatedly admitted may be more candid now that he is off the campaign trail.

The audience audibly groaned when Cain called global warming “another myth people have bought into.”

NU College Democrats Co-President Lauren Izaak said although she found Cain’s dismissal of global warming troubling, she took particular issue with his skewering of some sensitive words.

While discussing the foreign oil crisis, Cain seemed to purposely mispronounce the religious follower names “Sikh” and “Shiite,” quickly adding, “Yeah, I said it,” when the audience gasped.

“I definitely understand why people felt offended,” Izaak said. “It felt oddly tied into the whole conversation we are having on campus about diversity right now.”

Before his speech, Cain briefly met with several student leaders in the lobby of the McCormick Tribune Center. One of those present, Associated Student Government President Victor Shao, said Cain shared some stories from his days at Godfather’s Pizza, such as the time Cain personally visited a store to figure out which ingredients to cut from the company budget.

At the meet-and-greet, Shao recalled Cain as especially emphatic about the temperature of the drinking water he was provided.

“He said the best thing for anyone who is going to be speaking is warm water, because cold water constricts the throat,” Shao said with a laugh. “I think they warmed up the water for him after that.”

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