"I hope this doesn't turn into an occupation," Stephen Colbert cried out to hundreds of ecstatic students squeezed into the historic Cistern Yard at the College of Charleston.
With those words, The Colbert Report star proved once again that he speaks the language of young voters better than any politician – except perhaps Ron Paul.
The faux Republican satirist brought his ersatz and oddly educational political campaign to his hometown of Charleston on Friday and, since he is not on the ballot in Saturday's South Carolina primary, urged his fans to vote for Herman Cain instead.
"I came to praise one man. One Her-man," he joked. "Important note: a her-man is not the same as a she-male. I don't want to frighten off any [Rick]Santorum supporters."
Mr. Cain, the Atlanta businessman who dropped out of the GOP race too late to get his name off the ballot, played along to headline the "Rock Me Like a Herman Cain South Cain-olina Primary Rally." But in keeping with his "unconventional endorsement" of the American people, Mr. Cain told those in the crowd not to waste their vote on him.
One person in the audience held up a "Palin/Colbert" placard – a sign, if any was needed, that there was nothing very serious about this political rally.
Yet, Mr. Colbert has sparked a serious debate about whether his use of comedy to draw attention to money in U.S. politics – he has formed a so-called super political action committee named Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow – is turning young people into cynics before they cast their first ballot.
"I think it's hilarious," offered Amanda Dolan, 22, a psychology major who described herself as "a Republican on monetary issues and a Democrat on social issues."
She said she did not intend to vote in Saturday's primary because the only candidate she might consider – Mr. Paul, the libertarian Texas congressman – "doesn't have a chance."
Ms. Dolan said she would vote for President Barack Obama in the fall if either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich wins the Republican nomination.
"Newt comes up with a lot of good ideas, but I don't trust him whatsoever," she said. "I think of Romney as an absolute narcissist businessman."
Mr. Colbert, who has formed an exploratory committee to examine whether he will launch a presidential bid of his own, promised to spurn negative attacks on his rivals.
"I won't be saying things like, 'the only difference between Mitt Romney and a statue of Mitt Romney is that the statue never changes its position.' "