CHARLESTON, S.C. — The day before what could prove the pivotal primary in the Republican race, the biggest political event in the coastal city of Charleston was a rally by former candidate Herman Cain and late-night comedy host Stephen Colbert.
Colbert, the Comedy Central star running a psuedo-presidential campaign, and Cain filled the main quadrangle at the College of Charleston with an eclectic mix of college students, Occupy Wall Street protesters and townspeople drawn in by the circus-like atmosphere.
Colbert used the event to lampoon the campaign finance process, telling South Carolina voters to choose Cain in Saturday's primary as a protest against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
"I want you to vote for Herman Cain because Herman Cain is me," Colbert said.
"With the stroke of a gavel, these justices leveled the playing field and then sold the rights to Bank of America," Colbert quipped.
Lines to enter the Cain and Colbert event wrapped around Charleston's cramped downtown sidewalks, and students who couldn't get in hung from fences surrounding the grounds.
In his trademark satirical style, Colbert reckoned that if political pundits were "calling being able to form a super-PAC a joke … then they're saying that our entire campaign finance system is a joke," he said.
The comedian had intended to run his own write-in campaign for the weekend's GOP primary, but the state's elections board does not allow write-ins on primary ballots. Instead, he urged voters to support Cain, who dropped out of the race in December amid multiple allegations of sexual impropriety.
"[Cain] He possesses the one thing I'll never have — a spot on the South Carolina ballot," Colbert said.
Cain, clearly in on the joke, went on to speak at length about the importance of participation in the political process.
"Washington is broken," Cain said. “It's not going to change from the inside, you're going to have to change it from the outside."
Cain mostly told the crowd to get involved, shying away from conservative policy proposals that would likely have been ill-received among the mostly liberal crowd. Earlier in the event, mentions of Gov. Nikki Haley and Republican Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham — all of South Carolina — drew boos.
"Someone once compared my campaign to David versus Goliath," Cain said. "I'm asking you to be part of an army of Davids."
He also urged the South Carolinians in attendance to ignore Colbert and vote for the candidate that best represents their views.
"I'm going to ask you to not vote for Herman Cain, because I don't want you to waste your vote," Cain said. "Every vote counts, you count, and every vote matters."
Cain also obliged the rowdy crowd, which shouted references to some of Cain's more memorable campaign moments — including his decision to quote from a song in a Pokémon movie, an animated feature for children, during his farewell address.
"I know me some Pokemon words," Cain joked, repeating the lyrics.
Cain also made sure to don his now-famous fedora and point out the presence of campaign manager Mark Block — who rose to Internet fame after smoking in a Web advertisement for the former Godfather's Pizza CEO.
Cain concluded his remarks by serenading the crowd with a song, drawing cheers and applause. The moment was only slightly marred by the collapse of one of nearly 40 gospel singers that Colbert had earlier brought up on stage; the comedian later said that she had fainted.
Spirits were high at the event, which featured cheerleaders, school mascots and a marching band. In the crowd, attendees came dressed as Evil Kenevil, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and giant teddy bears. University administrators watched from the windows of Randolph Hall, which served as the backdrop for the event.
And while the pair mostly focused on advocating for increased political participation and mocking Citizens Untied, Colbert did manage to squeeze in a few pointed jabs at the GOP field.
The comedian joked that in endorsing Cain, he was not going to point out "that the only difference between Mitt Romney and a statute of Mitt Romney is the statute doesn't change positions."
He also said he would not "answer the 'gotcha' question, 'Are you interested in an open marriage?' " he said. "Though I am flattered Newt Gingrich asked me."
He also noted that his endorsement for "Her-man is not the same as a she-man" because he didn't "want to scare off any [Rick] Santorum voters."