Late-night comedian Stephen Colbert brought his "exploratory committee" to South Carolina's College of Charleston on Friday and teamed up with former presidential candidate Herman Cain -- and perhaps more importantly, with Cain's bus.
Colbert announced on "The Colbert Report" on Jan. 12 that he was laying the groundwork for his possible candidacy for "president of the United States of South Carolina." One problem -- South Carolina does not allow for write-in candidates on its primary ballots. So in order to pursue his satirical campaign, he needed help. Enter Cain.
While no longer in the race for president, Cain is still on the South Carolina ballot. In a series of ads produced by the Super PAC Colbert used to run, but which now, for legal reasons, is being controlled by friend and fellow political satirist Jon Stewart, Colbert called on South Carolina voters to vote for Cain as a proxy for himself.
“Mr. Colbert could not get on the ballot. I could not get off the ballot. That’s how this came about," Cain said Friday. "And Mr. Colbert mentioned that there was one thing that I had that he did not have, which is a bus with my face on it. But there’s another thing that I have that Mr. Colbert does not have. ... He does not have my complexion perfection. .. That was a joke, y’all."
So why did Cain become Colbert's willing foil? In order to help Americans "lighten up," and also to further his campaign mission to "take back America." During Friday's rally, he invited the crowd of 3,300 to help him continue that drive.
"This event ... helps to bring attention to the crisis of the situation we are in," Cain said. "Every vote counts. Now Stephen Colbert asks you to vote for Herman Cain. I’m going to ask you not to vote for Herman Cain. I don’t want you to waste your vote. ... Because every vote counts and you count, which has been my message."
And why did some of the crowd turn out?
“I thought it would be interesting to come," said Adam Harris of Charlotte, N.C., "The way they’re doing the whole Super PAC thing, it’s just amazing how they’re shedding light on how it all works.”
“I just wanted to see what was going on," said Dale Erickson of Charleston, who identified himself as a fan of Colbert's, but not of the Republican Party.
“My mom told me to skip class for the rally,” said Caroline Reppe, 19, a College of Charleston student.
Colbert has used his "presidential" run as part of his continuing comedic attacks on campaign finance, and Super PACs in particular. Saturday's South Carolina primary falls on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision, which removed the limit on how much corporations and unions could give to campaigns, which has in turned powered the rise of PACs. Colbert didn't miss the opportunity to make the connection.
"Now some of you might be too young to remember, but years ago, back in 2010, there were still limits on how much corporations could spend on elections," Colbert said. "... And faced with this tragic lack of corporate influence in our government, two years ago, five courageous, unelected justices on the Supreme Court took a stand. … They ruled, since corporations are people, and people have the right to free speech, and money equals speech, corporations have the constitutional right to spend unlimited money on political speech.
"With the stroke of a gavel, these brave men leveled the playing field, and then sold the naming rights to that playing field to Bank of America.
"But these wise men know there had to be some reasonable restrictions, to protect all that innocent money from the corrupting influence of politicians. So they declared that unlimited corporate and union and billionaire bucks had to be completely independent of the campaigns, and so Super PACs were born unto us," Colbert said.
He went on to explain how he had his own Super PAC -- and read a legal disclaimer reminding all that his former Super PAC had nothing to do with Friday's rally.
"Giving up that Super PAC was not easy," he said. "It was like giving up my baby. Do you know who hard that is? Now imagine that baby had a whole lot of money."
Colbert has been criticized by some for using the primary as the backdrop for a running joke on his show. He addressed that criticism during Friday's rally.
"If they are calling being allowed to form a Super PAC, and collecting unlimited and untraceable amounts of money from individuals, unions, and corporations and spend that money on political ads and for personal enrichment, and then surrender that Super PAC to one of my closest friends while I explore a run for office, if that is a joke, then they are saying that our entire campaign finance system is a joke. And I don't know about you, but I have been paid to be offended by that.
"We fought a great Civil War to ensure that all people are people. Like Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg -- give me some money."
Colbert said a vote for Herman Cain would ensure that rights of corporations, and would serve as a thank you to the Supreme Court on the Citizens United anniversary.
As for what the voters of South Carolina will do? We'll find out Saturday.
Additional reporting from Drew Katchen in Charleston, S.C.