Friday, October 14, 2011

From fan to The Man: How Cleveland's Rich Lowrie claimed a place in Herman Cain's inner circle

Rich Lowrie might not have realized it at the time, but his life changed seven years ago, the day he met Herman Cain.

A Cleveland investment consultant with a voracious interest in economics, Lowrie was attending a Florida conference hosted by the conservative Club for Growth. Cain, a former pizza-chain executive, was seeking a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, and his remarks resonated.

"I just thought, 'Wow, whatever this guy has, he has it,'" Lowrie recalled Friday in a telephone interview with The Plain Dealer. "I introduced myself afterward, and that was that."

Except it wasn't. Lowrie stayed active with conservative causes, followed Cain's post-loss work as a political commentator and expanded his network. Then came the call last year from Mark Block, a friend Lowrie had made through Americans for Prosperity. Cain, their mutual dream candidate, was saddling up for a presidential bid. Block would help run the campaign.

What began as "informal dialogue and a phone call every now and then" quickly turned into a full-fledged role as Cain's senior economic adviser. That's how Lowrie found himself this summer on a New Hampshire-bound flight with Cain, sketching the tax-reform plan that in recent weeks has become a household name and helped Cain surge to the head of the Republican field.

"I had one question for him," Lowrie said of the chat. "How bold do you want to be?"

Cain, "with his signature smile and booming voice," leaned in and replied: "Bold."

And so, "9-9-9" was born -- a proposal to replace the federal tax code with a flat 9 percent tax on personal income and businesses and a 9 percent national sales tax. Asked about the plan's architects Tuesday in a televised debate, Cain identified only one: Lowrie, "out of Cleveland."

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