The Washington Post/Getty Images
October 12, 2011 at 03:23 PM EDT

Herman Cain must have known something was different as soon as he sat down at the table for last night’s Republican debate in New Hampshire. The former CEO of Godfather Pizza found himself conveniently situated between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Welcome to primetime, Herman Cain!

Cain, who’s surged in the Republican polls primarily on the curiosity about his 9-9-9 plan (9 percent corporate tax, 9 percent income tax, 9 percent new national sales tax), was the center of attention, as the race’s flagging candidates took turns slamming him with their best scripted one-liners. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman got a laugh with, “It’s a catchy phrase. In fact, I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it.” Congresswoman Michele Bachmann tried with “When you take the 9-9-9 Plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil’s in the details.” Any opportunity that allows Bachmann to sprinkle fundamental christianity into a hokey attack line is win-win.

Romney was only too happy to let Cain be the night’s lightning rod. He’s the frontrunner — never more so than after receiving a well-timed endorsement from New Jersey governor Chris Christie — and it must have been nice to cruise through this round. Perry, who shrinks in stature with every debate, lamely attempted to engage his rival, but it backfired. The Texas governor may carry a gun when he goes jogging, but Romney practically gave him noogies during their one-sided exchange over taxes and healthcare.

So where does the race go from here? Is it a race at all, anymore? Can Cain maintain his place at the big-boy table, or is 9-9-9 really just German for No-No-No! Did anyone else impress you last night? Are you still hoping that another candidate magically appears to derail the Romney train?

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Herman Cain on ‘The View’

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