Nightly News   |  October 18, 2011

In latest GOP debate, Cain may have to defend 9-9-9

A new GOP presidential debate kicks off Tuesday night in Las Vegas, where Herman Cain is expected to face increased scrutiny and criticism of his 9-9-9 plan. NBC’s Chuck Todd has more.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: For the Republicans who want to replace President Obama there's another debate tonight in Las Vegas , and it comes as Herman Cain and his ideas and his sense of humor are getting more scrutiny these days. Our chief White House correspondent and political director, Chuck Todd , with us tonight from our DC newsroom. Chuck , good evening.

CHUCK TODD reporting: Good evening, Brian . You know, some members of the Republican establishment may believe Herman Cain is simply in the middle of his 15 minutes of primary fame. But that 15 minutes now includes close scrutiny and could spell a surge of attacks at tonight's debate. Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain has seen his poll numbers surge thanks to three other numbers.

Mr. HERMAN CAIN: My 9 -9-9 plan.

TODD: Tonight's Nevada debate is another opportunity for opponents to raise questions about Cain 's plan to replace the current tax code with a 9 percent income tax , 9 percent corporate tax and 9 percent sales tax . He's had to defend the national sales tax part of his plan the most.

Mr. CAIN: Who will pay more? The people who spend more money on new goods.

TODD: Eleven months ago, columnist Herman Cain argued against the idea of a national sales tax , something Cain 's conservative critics seized on today. Cain 's argument then was based on the assumption that a sales tax would not replace the current tax code . "The worst idea," Cain wrote, "is a proposed national sales tax on top of everything we already pay." Also tonight, Cain is likely to face questions about his recent comments about an electrified fence on the Mexican border . Saturday in Tennessee :

Mr. CAIN: Electrified. With a sign on the other side that says, 'It can kill you.'

TODD: Sunday on " Meet the Press ":

DAVID GREGORY reporting: It's a joke. So that...

Mr. CAIN: It's a joke. That's a joke.

GREGORY: That's not a serious plan.

Mr. CAIN: That's not a serious plan. No, it's not.

GREGORY: OK.

TODD: Monday in Arizona :

Mr. CAIN: I apologize if it offended anyone.

TODD: But then he went on to readvocate for the electrified fence .

Mr. CAIN: I don't apologize for using a combination of a fence, and it might be electrified. I'm not walking away from that. I just don't want to offend anybody.

TODD: That sort of blunt talk and new scrutiny hasn't hurt Cain so far. Another national poll today has him essentially tied with front-runner Mitt Romney .

TODD: Now, Brian , a little note on the primary calendar. Believe it or not , we are now 77 days away from the Iowa caucuses . Yesterday the Iowa Republican Party announced that despite every effort of the national party to not have this season start off with a January schedule of events, it is going to be on January 3rd again, just two days after New Year's Day and only one day after all the bowl games. This thing is in the middle of the primary season now, believe it or not .

WILLIAMS: First thing you think of on New Year's Eve , Chuck , is the Iowa caucuses . All right, thanks. Chuck Todd from our DC newsroom.