Five months into his run for the Republican presidential nomination, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, 65, is rising in polls thanks to his plain-talking style and easy to remember 9-9-9 tax plan. On Oct. 21, at Shield’s Pizza in Southfield, Mich., between mouthfuls of pepperoni deep dish, Cain spoke with PEOPLE. “I was supposed to fold up tent three months ago,” he says, beaming at supporters shouting, “Yes, we Cain!” He adds, “Now look at us!”
Why jump into politics running for the White House? How about a state or a city?
Two reasons: America can’t wait. Secondly, I don’t have that long to live that I want to work my way up the political ladder-I did that in corporate America three times.
How would your own taxes look under your 9-9-9 plan? How would your parents have fared?
It won’t affect my taxes very much because I’m now unemployed. I might be on the 9-0-9 plan! My mother was a domestic worker, my dad was a chauffeur, so as he worked three jobs and moved into a higher income-tax bracket, he was penalized. And he was busting his you-know-what to make it.
You’ve joked that your secret-service code name should be Cornbread. Why Cornbread?
When CB [radios] were popular, my handle was Cornbread. Talking about what my code name would be, somebody said, “Well maybe it’ll be Cornbread.” Now I’m going, “It can’t be Cornbread!” But I selected it for my CB handle because I love corn bread!
Fair enough. But what’s your response when people say that certain language you use plays into racial stereotypes?
My response is: Get a life! I know that’s not politically correct, but I didn’t go to political correctness school.
When is the last time you felt discriminated against?
The last time I was discriminated against-and I knew about it-was when I rode in a segregated bus in Atlanta. In 1967 [when] I went to work for the Department of the Navy, there was probably still some resistance to so many blacks going into government, but it was covert. I never faced a situation where it was directly presented to me, because I was too busy focusing on my performance.
You grew up with parents who made sure you and your brother Thurman went to college. How can kids who don’t have that support get on a path for success?
Look inside and decide what you want to be. The words I use sometimes-I’ve been told it comes from Pokemon; I thought it was the closing song of the 2000 Olympics-“Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It’s never easy when so much is on the line. But you can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you. Just look inside, you’ll be surprised what you can do.”
You’ve said the cancer you beat was given to you by God for a reason. What was the reason?
I think that reason was for me to make as big a difference as I could in the time that I have remaining. I didn’t know it would mean running for President at the time, but if you know how to listen to God and read the road signs, you’ll end up where you need to end up. I’m now five years cancer-free.
You’ve been married to Gloria for 43 years. What’s the secret to a long marriage?
Don’t try to change one another. I’m an extrovert. She’s more of a introvert. She represents tranquility when I get home. I didn’t drag her along to this campaign, and that made her happy.
Is she prepared for the visibility of being the First Lady?
Yes, because we are going to control the visibility.
You sang an ode to pizza to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Were you a Beatles fan?
Was that a Beatles song? I forget, man. I’m trying to remember who’s the head of “Beki-beki-beki-bekistan.” [My staff] wishes that would go away! I loved some of their songs. But I never got caught up in Beatlemania. I was studying.
Last book you read?
The Bible. Parts of it.
What’s on your iPod?
Nothing! I got time to listen to an iPod?
TV show you rarely miss?
Fox News. Because I’m on it.
Possible campaign song?
“The Impossible Dream.”
What’s your secret talent?
The cat’s out of the bag: I used to be a singer.
Who should play you in a movie?
I don’t think he’s been discovered yet. Therein lies the difference between me and the other candidates. I’m myself, totally original.