Mr. 999 made UM’s 2012 election course a stop on his 30-day, 30-city Truth Tour, as he addressed a crowd of more than 200 students Tuesday evening.
A former presidential hopeful, Herman Cain sought the Republican nomination in the 2012 election and proposed the much talked about, but poorly understood, 9-9-9 tax plan. Now in the post-campaign phase, Cain has endorsed Republican candidate Mitt Romney and is touring the country speaking to college students, among other groups of people.
Cain said he wanted to visit college campuses because college students represented a big portion of the 2008 electorate.
“Many of them voted for President Obama based on the hope and change theme,” Cain said. “I also know that from recent polls, college students have become disillusioned. It wasn’t the hope and change that they thought. And so I believe we must take the conservative message to college students.”
In his speech, Cain discussed the American dream, why he decided to run for president, and his mission now that he’s out of the race. He also urged students to “stay involved, stay informed and stay inspired.”
“Even though I’m not pursuing the position of president anymore, I’m still on a mission to make a difference in this country in terms of making sure that people have the facts and the truth in order to make informed decisions,” Cain told the audience.
Following his speech, students interacted with Cain in a question-and-answer session.
“I was amazed at how many hands went up in the Q&A,” Cain said. “We couldn’t answer all of them. That said that the students are really engaged, and they want answers.”
Students’ questions ranged from topics like education to health care. Cain’s ideas for tax code reform and his vision of America four years from now, under either an Obama or Romney administration, were also points of discussion.
“One of the things that I’ve learned as a speaker in all of the years that I’ve spoken is that you don’t always know what’s on their minds, especially when you’re on a college campus,” Cain said. “For example, the young man who talked about the Department of Education and came from an inner-city school, I never would’ve anticipated talking about education in that regard.”
Senior Ronald Fox, a political science major, captured Cain’s attention with the evening’s first question. Fox asked about the impact of eliminating the Department of Education on lower-income students, who come from inner-city high schools and get the grades to attend college but cannot afford it without the federal government’s financial support. Cain said he supports state control over education.
Janelle De La Torre, a sophomore majoring in political science, said it was incredible to see Cain up close and in person, especially in the intimate classroom setting. A registered Republican, De La Torre is working with voter registration out of the Romney Victory Office in Kendall.
“He’s just an incredible personality and I really believe that his presence there and, more specifically, his passion and enthusiasm for what he believes in came at a perfect time with all the exciting events we have this week at the U,” De La Torre said.
UM was selected as a stop on the Truth Tour because it’s located in the battleground state of Florida, Cain said.
“We wanted to bring this Truth Tour to southern Florida, central Florida and northern Florida,” he said. “It was to make sure that we geographically hit the three major areas of the state because of the way the demographics in the state break down.”
The news of Cain’s visit to UM was kept under wraps – the professors warned students to come to class early for their important guest without sharing his name – so students like freshman Perry Elbadrawi were taken by surprise.
“I thought it was really cool that we had this opportunity and that the class was high-profile enough to get such a figure, but I did laugh,” Elbadrawi said. “I had followed him during the primaries, and I took him as more of a joke. But he’s a good speaker.”
However, other students, like sophomore Maxwell Collie, still knew about Cain in advance. Collie, an athletic training major and registered Democrat, said she was considering not showing up to class when she found out that Cain would be this week’s guest speaker.
“I honestly didn’t want to show up to class because my initial reaction was, ‘Oh, we’re having another very, very Republican speaker whose views I don’t agree with,’ but then I thought it’d be great to see his point and hear what he had to say,” Collie said. “And I’m glad I did because it made me realize even more why I don’t support his ideas, and it informed me.”
Cain said he was looking “not to change minds but inform minds” through his talk. However, Elbadrawi, a political science major and registered Democrat, said she did not feel like she was being informed.
“He was informing, but he was informing in a biased manner,” she said. “I don’t think that it’s right for him to say, ‘I’m here to inform you,’ but he’s already endorsed a candidate and he was running for the Republican side. He didn’t show both sides.”
Tough DeLa Torre called Cain a “controversial politician,” she said that it is empowering for students to see important figures as real people instead of the political monsters they are made out to be.
“I believe his presence in class really may have gotten some students of the opposing party thinking about the issues, which is great,” she said.
Ultimately, Cain said he felt that he accomplished his goal of getting across to students.
“We definitely achieved what we wanted to achieve,” Cain said. “I could tell that, because I didn’t give a partisan speech, it was resonating with the students. That was the objective. I could also tell that it was causing students to think and rethink some of the things that they thought they knew.”