Comedian Stephen Colbert can't get on the ballot in South Carolina. Herman Cain is still on the ballot, although no longer in the race for president. Colbert encouraged people to vote for Cain in the S.C. primary, saying it was really a vote for him. NBC's Ali Weinberg reports.
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- It might have been South Carolina's largest political rally of the 2012 primary season, packed with more than 3,000 people, but with neither of the headlining guests actually a candidate for office.
Comedian Stephen Colbert brought his mock presidential campaign -- for president of the United States of South Carolina -- to his hometown of Charleston to ask voters to support former candidate Herman Cain.
"I want you to vote for Herman Cain because Herman Cain is me," Colbert told a cheering crowd at the College of Charleston. He urged voters to back Cain, whose name is still on Saturday's primary ballot, because South Carolina does not allow write-in candidates.
"We both flout convention when it comes to thinks like taxes and debt and how many '-Bekis' there are in Uz-Beki-Beki-Beki-Stan-Stan," Colbert said as the crowd roared. "I say three, Herman says four. National Geographic is working on it."
Cain eagerly shared the spotlight with Colbert but at times seemed like he didn't understand that the rally was a ruse, telling the audience that he disagreed with the comedian-in-chief on whom South Carolinians should vote for on Saturday.
“Now Stephen Colbert asked you to vote for Herman Cain. I am going to ask you to not vote for Herman Cain and here's why: I don't want you to waste your vote,” Cain said in a serious tone. “I don't want you to waste your vote because one of the things a lot of people failed to really appreciate is that every vote counts. Every vote counts and your vote still matters and you still matter.”
Thus went the dynamic of the massive rally: a wide-eyed, sarcastic Colbert poking fun at a willing but rather serious Cain, who was angling for one last stand. While it was clear that Colbert was mocking campaigns, candidates, campaign finance and ballot access, Cain seemed, at several points, not exactly in on the joke as he repurposed old lines from his presidential stump speech.
Taking full advantage of his captive audience, Cain advertised his new website and 9-9-9 tax plan, then encouraged voters to mobilize for change.
"The way you change [government] from the outside is you become a part of this massive movement that's going on in this country,” Cain said, to a scattered applause. “We have got to change Washington from the outside and it starts with you and every other college campus in America.”
When Cain implored students to “stay inspired,” an audible groan rippled through the audience.
It wasn’t long, however, before Colbert lured Cain back into his web of hilarity, reminding him that a Palmetto State victory is indeed still possible, citing some famous defeats through history.
"Just because you lose, that doesn't mean you surrender,” Colbert told Cain. “Did Napoleon surrender at Waterloo? Did Custer surrender at Little Big Horn? Did Robert E. Lee surrender at Appomattox? Hell no!"
Colbert also seized on super PACs, telling the crowd he “celebrated” the organizations. Super PACs may accept unlimited campaign donations from corporations and individuals, and have operated in support of presidential candidates, although they are legally barred from coordinating with candidates directly.
Playing on the names of major super PACs this season, Colbert joyfully ripped the organizations.
"We had finally arrived at an American Crossroads to Restore our Future Priorities USA and Make Us Great Again. Because Freedom Works. And once upon a time I even had one, Colbert Super PAC,” he said wistfully.
"I had to give up my super PAC just because I formed an exploratory committee to be the president of the United States of South Carolina,” Colbert explained. “Giving up that Super PAC wasn't easy. It was like giving up my baby. Do you know how hard that is?"
"Now imagine that baby had a whole lot of money," he continued. "Imagine how much harder that would be because, God willing, you'll get that baby back, but it might not have all the money so why would you love it?"
Basking in crowds larger than even his biggest rallies as a candidate, Cain happily maintained his swagger, serenading the audience in a solo before executing a rousing duet of “This Little Light of Mine” with Colbert, complete with a backup gospel choir.
The rock show-like atmosphere was one that would make any actual presidential candidate jealous. But it's unclear what, if any, effect the rally will have on Saturday's primary vote. Most of the audience was comprised of students at the College of Charleston, many of whom hail from out of state.