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Businessman Herman Cain catapulted to the top tier in the race for the GOP presidential nomination after his surprise Florida straw poll victory, and he is now feeling the heat. His economic plan, dubbed “9-9-9,” received the most attention in last night’s debate, with former Senator Rick Santorum and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann leading the charge against it.
There were no major stumbles by any of the candidates in this last debate, and there were few fireworks as they sat around a circular table to discuss the economy. Herman Cain received the most attention and aptly handled criticism of his 9-9-9 plan, which calls for a 9% national sales tax, 9% corporate income tax and 9% personal income tax. Cain had serious momentum going into the race, with most polls showing him a close second to Mitt Romney or even slightly ahead. One poll shows him with an eight-point lead in Iowa, and another has him ahead of Romney by one point in South Carolina.
When a moderator from Bloomberg said that the news service doubted whether 9-9-9 would raise revenue, he humorously responded, “The problem with that analysis is that it’s wrong.” He also joked about the complexity of Mitt Romney’s 59-point economic plan. His plan was challenged by Santorum and Bachmann, with the former saying it won’t pass Congress and the latter having a stand-out moment when she said, “Turn 9-9-9 upside-down. The devil is in the details.” Both cautioned against giving the federal government the power to implement a national sales tax, and that concern will resonate with voters.
Mitt Romney performed well and spoke smoothly about the economy and his record. Leading up to the debate, he had kind words for Herman Cain, probably because his ascent helps split the field that is trying to become Romney’s alternative. One poll shows Romney with a three-point lead in Iowa because of this division. He was also endorsed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, inarguably one of the most coveted endorsements a candidate could win. Overall, Romney probably did not gain or lose from the event. There were no big moments, but he did earn an applause when he said, “If you’re not willing to stand up to China, you’ll get run over by China.”
There is no reason to believe that Rick Perry stopped his slide in the polls. He spoke without passion and failed to have a stand-out moment. He is trying to own the issue of energy independence, calling it a “new Declaration of Independence,” and urged domestic production. His comment about the need for a balanced budget amendment was well-received, but this does not differentiate him from the field. He struck Romney hard on his health care plan in Massachusetts, but Romney came prepared to highlight differences between his plan and President Obama’s. It is unlikely that Perry won any new supporters during this debate, and the ascent of other candidates will continue to take a toll on his numbers. He remains in the second-tier.
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