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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There's a new name atop the polls this week in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows the former head of Godfather's Pizza is at 27 percent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is just four points behind. Mr. Cain also has a new book, "This is Herman Cain: My Journey to the White House." Herman Cain joins us from along the campaign trail. Mr. Cain, thanks so much for being with.

HERMAN CAIN: Thanks a lot, Scott. Happy to be with you.

SIMON: So how do you keep your campaign from going the way of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump - for that matter, every other front-runner?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CAIN: Here's how I prevent my campaign from being the flavor of the week, as some people call it. The difference is you got, you know, there's ice milk and then what I call Haagen-Dazs Black Walnut ice cream, which never loses its taste, and I could eat it seven days a week. It's called substance. If you look at what has allowed me to surge, it is because of the substance and the ideas and the specific solutions that I have put on the table more so than the other candidates. For example, I know you heard about my solutions to the economic woes that we have.

SIMON: Your 9-9-9...

CAIN: 9-9-9 plan.

SIMON: Well, let me ask about a couple of specific features of that plan. The 9 percent national sales tax, which would under your plan help generate revenue that would be lost by reducing payroll and corporate taxes to that matching 9 percent. A gallon of milk costs $3.89 in Iowa this week. It's $3.89 for Bill Gates and his family, $3.89 for a family that's struggling, so wouldn't a 9 percent sales tax hit families who struggle more than people who have means every time they buy a gallon of milk or gas or a loaf of bread?

CAIN: On a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, Bill Gates and every rich person is going to pay the same tax as someone who's on the lower end of the spectrum. But Scott, I'm not going to play the class warfare card. You have to compare the taxes that they pay today. If you pick a certain income level - and I'll pick one and walk you through it, OK?

SIMON: Sure.

CAIN: I'm going to use $50,000 a year, since that's approximately what the median income is for a family in this country. Family of four, $50,000 a year. Under the current system, based upon standard deductions and standard exemptions, they're going to pay $10,200 in taxes. Under the 9-9-9 plan, the middle 9, they're going to pay $4,500. That leaves $5,700 to apply to that milk and bread in terms of the taxes. You have to go through the numbers for each individual situation.

SIMON: Mr. Cain, would you consider it important under your tax plan to raise to make certain - to raise enough revenue to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent?

CAIN: I would. In fact, the way we derive the 9 percent rate is that we calculated it based upon replacing all of the taxes that come in under the payroll tax, which you funds Social Security and Medicare. So absolutely I want to continue to fund those programs. So the revenue for Social Security and Medicare are still coming in and being collected using the 9-9-9 plan.

SIMON: The question we have to ask this week: The Justice Department says they've been able to stop a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. And they say that plan traces back to Iran. They've arraigned an Iranian-American man in the crime. Are you convinced that the government of Iran is behind the plot?

CAIN: Based upon the reports that I have seen, I am convinced, but obviously I, as president, would want to see all of the evidence that has caused them to come to that conclusion. Secondly, what we should do in response to that would depend upon carefully reviewing all of the information, all of the intelligence information, all of the military information, everything that we knew about that, before I could make an informed judgment as to what the United States should do.

One of the reasons that I believe that this happened, Scott, is that this president is perceived is weak, and weakness invites attack. I happen to believe that that's why they attempted to do something like this; to thumb their nose at the American people, to thumb that nose at the United States of America because this president is perceived as weak.

SIMON: So if anyone were to ask you what would you do now, you aren't in a position to answer until you've had a chance to see everything?

CAIN: Correct. Correct.

SIMON: Mr. Cain, I don't have to tell you that a lot of front-runners who have been in the second tier before that seem to get staggered when they get promoted to the varsity team because they get questions that - perhaps they hadn't quite thought out some of the issues and they get...

CAIN: Right.

SIMON: ...they get some sunlight, or they get some attention maybe a little bit prematurely. What's that experience been like for you this week?

CAIN: Well, the reason that me being in the varsity tier doesn't throw me off stride is because if you look at my career, I have been in the spotlight at various times for various reasons. In terms of being in the spotlight, that's not new. Being in the spotlight as a presidential contender, that is new, but it's not like it's culture shock to me. So I happen to think that I, along and the people I've surrounded myself with, will be able to deal with being at this new level in this whole Republican presidential primary.

SIMON: Mr. Cain, you know from your business experience that, you know, you can have three people working behind the counter and that's just fine until the tour buses with 200 people get off and then suddenly you don't have enough staff.

CAIN: Right.

SIMON: Do you have enough staff, enough organization, enough knowledgeable people to compete state after state from here on in?

CAIN: I will by the end of next week. We didn't - we don't as of today, but when this surge started we started to ramp up in terms of hiring the people that we have. And since you brought up the bus, remember, my experience is different from Governor Romney's. He's been more of a Wall Street executive. I've been a Main Street executive. I have been running that Burger King restaurant when that bus pulls up and you're understaffed.

In other words, as a businessman who has worked in the trenches, you know how and when to go to the customers. And you generally find out if the customers understand the dilemma that you're in and you're doing everything that you can to service them, guess what? You will have happy customers and that's how you stay in business. I've had to do that many a time.

SIMON: Has more money been flowing to you this week? You know, the president's recently raised I think $70 million this quarter.

CAIN: More money has been flowing into my campaign, absolutely, yes. I will tell you conservatively that the fundraising has gone up 20-fold in the last two weeks. President Obama has said he's going to raise a billion dollars to try and buy a second term. Well, to quote one of my supporters, "President Obama might raise a billion dollars to try to get re-elected, but the people of this country are going to raise some Cain."

SIMON: Mr. Cain, thanks for all your time.

CAIN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Presidential candidate Herman Cain.

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