(Ethan Miller / Getty Images )
As predicted, it's "beat up on Herman Cain" night in CNN's Republican debate in Las Vegas.
The first question, from an audience member, provoked a lively back and forth between Cain and the other six candidates who showed up. (Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is holding a town hall in Hew Hampshire.)
It was an interesting exercise in taking a guy apart -- even patronizing him -- while complimenting him lavishly.
They all like his "chutzpah," as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney described it, but they all think Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan is unworkable and "regressive," in the words of Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
"Herman Cain deserves a lot of credit," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "He has us talking at least about something that matters. ... There are much more complexities than Herman lets on."
"Herman's well meaning and I love his boldness ... but the reports are out ... 84% of Americans will pay more taxes under his plan," said former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. "We're talking about major increases in taxes on people." (Santorum introduced himself tonight by saying his 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, had surgery today and that he'd be taking a red-eye flight home to be with her. Bella, as she is called, was born with Trisomy 18, an often fatal congenital disorder.)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who probably has the toughest burden tonight because his campaign has flailed in the wake of terrible debate performances, had his strongest opening yet.
"Herman," he said, "I love you, brother, but you don't need a big analysis to figure this out. ... Go to New Hampshire. They're not interested in 9-9-9. They're interested in flatter and fairer. " (New Hampshire does not have a sales tax.)
Perry said he had his own plan that he would unveil at the end of the week, at which time, "I'll bump plans with you, brother."
Taxing personal income, corporate income and all sales at 9%, Perry said: " I don't think so, Herman. It's not gonna fly."