Republicans leapt to their feet with vigorous applause over and over for Herman Cain on Wednesday, an expression of grassroots support that accentuated his continual climb in the polls, where he is now neck-and-neck with front-runner Mitt Romney.
The enthusiasm for Cain at the Western Republican Leadership Conference mirrored the reception Cain received at the Value Voters Summit in Washington less than two weeks ago, when hundreds waited in line to have Cain sign his book, and in Florida in September, when he won an upset victory in the P5 straw poll.
"I kinda like my guns and Bible," he said. "And I ain't going to give them up."
Cain’s appearance seemed more like a revival meeting than a political conference. Audience members interjected with "amen" and "that's right" after Cain punctuated many of his points.
When it came time to introduce his signature economic plan, Cain instead held his hand up to his ear as supporters reflexively chanted "9-9-9."
Although Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich both addressed the conference earlier Wednesday, neither received the double standing ovation or boisterous applause as Cain.
Ditching the podium used by Perry hours earlier, Cain opted instead to stand front-and-center, joking that he hadn't brought a teleprompter — a clear dig at President Obama.
The former Godfather's Pizza CEO also addressed analyses of his tax plan that have shown lower-income people would pay more under his plan while those at the top of the wealth spectrum would pay less than they do now.
"Well it's not," Cain said with a sly smile. "We anticipated that attack, but I haven't told them how I'm going to fix it yet."
As activists in the audience laughed, Cain said he wanted to wait and see whether detractors would come out in opposition to his plan and deem it dead on arrival before they knew the details.
Cain did not say when he would unveil that fix, or explain how holding back information about the effects of his plan on the poor was a productive way to make the case that he should be elected president.
The 9-9-9 plan replaces the current tax code with 9 percent sales, income and business taxes.
Cain also made clear that there are two caveats to that flat-rate tax plan that he claimed allows “no loopholes for anybody.” Business expenses would be deductible so that they are not taxed twice — provided the purchases are from American businesses. And charitable contributions could also be written off.
On foreign policy, where Cain has said the nation desperately needs more clarity, Cain dismissed those who point out he has no experience in the global arena.
“I have consulted with foreign policy experts” who told him that all that is needed is character, common sense and good advice, he said.
“We have plenty of people that can help you,” Cain said those experts told him.
Audience members flooded out of the ballroom at the Venetian Hotel as Cain departed, leaving a mostly empty venue where Ron Paul was scheduled to speak minutes later.
Get the feeling Cain can do a great job, at what ever he sets him mind to.