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GOP presidential debate: Has Herman Cain trumped Rick Perry?

The GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire Tuesday was all about the 9-9-9 plan by Herman Cain. For Rick Perry, who needs to turn his campaign around, that was bad news.

By Staff Writer / October 11, 2011

Republican presidential candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry (l.) and businessman Herman Cain participate in the GOP presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday.

Toni Sandys/AP

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On a night when Texas Gov. Rick Perry had the most to lose, Governor Perry might have lost the most.

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The Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire Tuesday night was, if nothing else, an opportunity for the Texas governor. Losing support in the polls and replaced by Herman Cain as primary challenger to perpetual front-runner-by-default Mitt Romney, Perry had a chance to change the momentum.

He could attack Mr. Cain for his plan to create a national 9 percent sales tax.

He could cast former Massachusetts Governor Romney's health-care law as a job killer.

In the end, however, he looked like the candidate most likely to have left the iron on at home. By the end, pundits across the cable-TV landscape were wondering whether Perry had the fire to run for president, so muted and disengaged was his performance.

It was the most notable development of a night lacking in notable developments.

Romney was, again, the best debater – something that has before done little to erase the stain of once being a blue-state governor, and is unlikely to do so now. Having won the endorsement Tuesday of the man whom Republicans craved to unseat him (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), Romney's only real purpose in the debates is to avoid self-inflicted wounds, which he did adeptly enough.

Meanwhile, the debate, which was confined to economic issues, played to Cain's strengths as a former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. The event could have been titled: The Republican Presidential Debate – An Evening with Candidate Cain's 9-9-9 Plan.

He defended his proposal to establish 9 percent rates for sales, payroll, and business taxes (repeatedly), and his opponents questioned it (repeatedly). At one point, moderator Charlie Rose chastised the candidates for repeatedly attacking the plan because he had to give Cain a chance to rebut each criticism – making the night one giant 9-9-9 extravaganza.

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