Presidential debate turns into Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Republicans
The focus of Tuesday's Republican presidential debate was supposed to be Herman Cain, but Rick Perry and Mitt Romney went at each other like heavyweights, suggesting that each thinks the other is his main competition.
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While he endured the most attacks, Romney wasn’t the only target.Skip to next paragraph
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Herman Cain, the businessman who has surged in the polls recently to lead the field with Romney, endured the first pile-on of the debate, with the six other candidates all criticizing his pet 9-9-9 tax plan, which calls for replacing the current federal tax code with a 9 percent federal sales, income, and corporate tax.
For the most part, Mr. Cain took the criticisms in stride, countering that recent assessments of how his plan would affect taxpayers (released Tuesday by the Tax Policy Center) were simply wrong, and saying that many of his opponents’ criticisms were “mixing apples and oranges.”
As the last debate for about a month, many viewers were watching closely to see how Governor Perry performed. His lackluster showing in previous debates has been credited, at least in part, for his drop in the polls.
He was feistier than in recent debates, and clearly came ready to take on Romney. Despite the polls, those two candidates became the center of much of the debate, leaving Cain more on the sidelines.
In addition to battling over immigration, health care, job creation, and their record as governors, the debate gave them the first opportunity to address the controversy over one of Perry’s supporter’s comments about Romney’s Mormon faith.
Mr. Cooper asked Perry for his opinion on the comments by Pastor Robert Jeffress, who called Mormonism a cult, and Perry said he disagreed with them, though he defended Mr. Jeffress’s freedom to voice that opinion.
Romney shrugged off the Jeffress attack, saying that he’s “heard worse,” but said Perry should have condemned the remarks at the time – not because of the attack on Mormonism but because they suggested Americans should choose politicians based on their religion.
“I wanted you to be able to say, ‘that’s wrong,’” he told Perry.
The audience seemed fairly friendly to Romney, booing when the Jeffress’s comments were first mentioned, and also booing Perry when he harped one too many times on Romney’s hiring a company that used illegal immigrants. “I think we’ve been down that road, and it sounds like the audience agrees with me,” said Romney.
It’s too soon to tell how the debate will affect the candidates’ standings, but increasingly, Romney, Cain, and Perry seem to be settling into the leading triumvirate. The other four – including Santorum, Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and Gingrich – hit sounding points that have become familiar from other debates but didn't immediately appear likely to change their positioning in the Republican field.