Former GOP presidential hopeful, Trump ally Herman Cain dies of COVID-19

8/6/2020, 6 p.m.
Herman Cain, a former Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of a major pizza chain who went on to become ...
Mr. Cain

ATLANTA - Herman Cain, a former Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of a major pizza chain who went on to become an ardent supporter of President Trump, died Thursday, July 30, 2020, in an Atlanta hospital of complications from the coronavirus. He was 74.

Mr. Cain had been ill with the virus for several weeks. It’s not clear when or where he was infected, but he was hospitalized less than two weeks after attending President Trump’s largely maskless campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20. Mr. Cain had been co-chair of Black Voices for Trump.

A photo taken at the rally showed Mr. Cain, without a mask, sitting close to other people who also were not wearing any face coverings. A statement on his Twitter account said he tested positive for COVID-19 on June 29 and was hospitalized July 1 because his symptoms were serious.

President Trump offered his condolences in a tweet last week in which he said he had also spoken by telephone to Mr. Cain’s family. He later started his news conference at the White House with a mention of Mr. Cain’s death.

“He was a very special person ... and unfortunately he passed away from a thing called the China virus,” President Trump said, using the offensive moniker he often ascribes to the coronavirus, which was first detected in China.

Mr. Cain, who hoped to become the first Black politician to win the GOP nomination for president, initially was considered a long-shot candidate. His bid was propelled forward in September 2011 when he won a straw poll vote in Florida, instantly becoming an alternative candidate for Republican voters concerned that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was not conservative enough.

But Mr. Cain struggled to respond to accusations that he had sexually harassed several women and — in a video that went viral on the internet — rambled uncomfortably when asked whether he supported or opposed President Obama’s policies in Libya. There also were gaffes on abortion and torture that led Mr. Cain’s critics to question whether he was ready for the White House.

The centerpiece of Mr. Cain’s presidential campaign was his 9-9-9 plan, which would have replaced the current tax code with a 9 percent tax on personal and corporate income and a 9 percent national sales tax. He said the plan’s simplicity would stimulate the economy by giving investors certainty.

“If 10 percent is good enough for God, 9 percent ought to be good enough for the federal government,” he told crowds.

Mr. Cain honed his speaking skills in the corporate world, then hosted a radio talk show in Atlanta that introduced his political views and up-by-the-bootstraps life story to many Tea Party supporters and other conservatives.

He first ventured into national politics in 1994 when he publicly challenged President Clinton, a Democrat, on his proposal to force employers to buy health insurance for their employees.

“For many, many businesses like mine, the cost of your plan is simply a cost that will cause us to eliminate jobs,” Mr. Cain told President Clinton. “What will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?”

Afterward, the restaurant industry used Mr. Cain as a spokesman as it campaigned against President Clinton’s plan, which ultimately failed.

Mr. Cain served as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City from 1992 to 1996. After moving back to his native Georgia, he ran for U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2004, losing in the primary.

Less than two years later, Mr. Cain was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer that had spread to his liver. He recovered and later credited God with persuading him to run for president after President Obama took office in early 2009.

“That’s when I prayed and prayed and prayed,” Mr. Cain told an audience of young Republicans in Atlanta. “And when I finally realized that it was God saying that this is what I needed to do, I was like Moses. ‘You’ve got the wrong man, Lord. Are you sure?’ ”

Mr. Cain projected a self-confident image that at times bordered on arrogance. He referred to himself in the third person, and his motivational speaking company was named T.H.E. New Voice Inc. The acronym stood for The Hermanator Experience.

Born in the segregated South, Mr. Cain’s father worked three jobs as a janitor, barber and chauffeur, while his mother was a servant. He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, received a master’s degree from Purdue University and worked as a civilian mathematician in the Navy.

While it was a good job, Mr. Cain said his ambitions were in the corporate world. He wanted to be president of “something ... somewhere,” he later wrote.

He worked first for Coca-Cola, became a vice president with Pillsbury, then was appointed to run its struggling Burger King unit in the Philadelphia area. His success prompted Pillsbury officials to ask Mr. Cain to take over its floundering Godfather’s Pizza chain. Mr. Cain said he returned the franchise to profitability.

Mr. Cain is survived by his wife, Gloria Etchison, their children and grandchildren.