By Gregory W. Wallace (@gregorywallace)
NASHUA, N.H. -- Presidential hopeful Herman Cain faced New Hampshire voters today for the first time since he encountered speedbumps on his road to the Republican nomination, some of his own making.
Cain, the businessman best known for leading a pizza chain, defended his well-known tax plan and said that his priorities, should he be elected president, include reviving the U.S. economy and addressing a deficit of clarity in foreign policy.
Though he did not mention allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him in recent weeks, he addressed a recent newspaper interview, video of which shows him initially stumbling to answer a question about Libya.
Cain says he has visited New Hampshire two dozen times, but he was scarcely in the state this fall, besides attending an October debate in Hanover, N.H. A Bloomberg poll of Granite State voters released yesterday shows him in fourth place -- behind former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich -- at eight percent.
But his New Hampshire supporters, led by former state Republican party chair Jack Kimball, who was ousted earlier this year, could prove to be vocal and ardent. One supporter, for example, has driven a pickup truck around Manchester with a large campaign sign tacked to the back.
Cain's defense of his Libya fumble -- eventually recovered, saying he would have approached the situation differently than President Obama, but might have arrived at the same course of action -- was a criticism of media outlets for misrepresenting his remarks.
Rather than struggling for thoughts and words, Cain said, "what they're missing is I think before I speak. That's a novel idea, and sometimes I have to stop and gather my thoughts." But the raw video, posted by the Journal Sentinel newspaper, which conducted the interview, has been viewed over a half million times online.
"Who knows every detail of every country on the planet," he added to applause from a supportive crowd. Instead, presidents "surround yourself with good people" who are fluent with the details.
To chants of "9-9-9," the catchy name of his tax reform plan, he said that his proposed income tax changes would result in many paying less in taxes, and attempted to skirt the third rail of taxes here.
"Sales tax is a dirty word here in New Hampshire," he acknowledged, then pointed to a difference between national and local. "I'm not proposing a state sales tax. I'm proposing to take the embeded taxes out of everything we buy and put in a visible nine percent."
He took no questions from the audience, though he did shake hands for several minutes after his remarks.
Repeating a pledge made to reporters on his last visit, for a presidential debate in October, Cain promised voters that he would campaign here again soon.
"I'll be back," he said, "I'm not going away forever."