- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Herman Cain brushed off the notion in the GOP debate Wednesday that the allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior that were lodged against him in the 1990s will feed questions about his character that could derail his chances of becoming the next president.

“The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations,” Mr. Cain said, sparking an applause for the crowd gathered at debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.  “They’re saying they don’t care about the character assassination, they care about leadership and getting this economy growing and all of the other problems we face.”

The remarks were an early reminder that it was the first time the presidential candidates had stood on the same stage since news organizations reported accusations by four different women of sexually inappropriate behavior on Mr. Cain’s part.

But the first question the night fielded by Mr. Cain and the candidates focused on what role they think the United States should play in helping Italy pull itself out of a financial mess that played a hand in the Dow Jones industrial average dropping more than 400 points Wednesday.

“There’s not a lot that the United States can directly do for Italy right now because they’re really way beyond the point of return that we as the United States can save them,” Mr. Cain said.

Mr. Romney also warned against a potential bailout, saying “Europe is able to take care of their own problems.”

“We don’t want to step in and try and bail out their banks and bail out their governments,” he said.

The debate was the ninth of the race, but the first in three weeks. During that time Mr. Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich climbed in the polls, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry slid following poorly reviewed debate performances.

Mr. Perry stumbled again when he turned to Mr. Paul and started to emphatically explain that he planned on cutting three federal agencies - the department of commerce, the department of education and then he drew a blank on the third agency he had in his crosshairs.

The Environmental Protection Agency? some of his rivals asked, before moderator John Hardwood posed the question directly to Mr. Perry, “You can’t name the third agency?”

Mr. Perry fumbled around with what appeared to be notes on the podium in front of him, eventually gave up. “I can’t,” he said, adding “oops.” The next time around, though, he remembered it was the Department of Energy that “I was reaching for a while ago.”

Mr. Gingrich, meanwhile, continued to ridicule some of the questions tossed in his direction, though he suggested the nation’s student loan program had failed and shared Mr. Romney’s view that Congress should support the president’s call to extend the 2 percent payroll-tax cut for another year

“I’m not prepared to raise taxes on working Americans in the middle of a recession that’s this bad,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said she opposed an extension, warning it will continue to blow a hole in the Social Security trust fund.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also took part in the the debate.

The debate in many ways was more tepid than some of the previous affairs. Coming into the event, the accusations against Mr. Cain overshadow all of the other story lines in the Republican field: first and foremost among them, whether Mr. Cain or someone else can emerge as a serious conservative alternative to Mr. Romney before the nomination process kicks off with the Iowa caucuses in early January.

“This country is looking for leadership and this is why a lot of people, despite what has happened over the last nine days, are still very enthusiastic about my candidacy,” he said.

Asked about whether the accusations would discourage him from supporting Mr. Cain as the head of a company, Mr. Romney took a pass, saying that was up to voters to decide.

Heading into the debate, Rasmussen Reports released a poll suggesting voters think Mr. Romney is on his way to capturing the nomination. In the survey, 45 percent of more than 1,000 Republican and Republican-leaning independents predicted Mr. Romney would win the nomination.

Mr. Cain placed second with 13 percent and Mr. Perry finished third with 9 percent.

The pollster, however, also warned that Mr. Romney remains a weak frontrunner because his base of support essentially has plateaued and he is not generating a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans.

Mr. Gingrich showed flashes Wednesday night of why he is the latest possible “anyone-but-Romney-candidate.”

The former House speaker has relied on a strategy of trying to stay above the daily fray and aiming his attacks at Mr. Obama and the media, while casting himself as an ideas man. In a previous debate he made a point of noting he was exchanging emails with the big thinkers on major issues of the day.

The strategy has allowed him to duck some of the difficult questions that ultimately will come his way if his star continues to rise; namely about his previous support of an individual health care mandate and his extramarital affairs. He also likely will have to defend the global warming commercial where he sits on a couch shoulder-to-shoulder with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and says they “agree our country must take action to address climate change.”

For their part, Democrats remain intent on attacking Mr. Romney. He was greeted Wednesday in Michiigan - a state his father governed in the 1960s - by full-page advertisements in the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News in which the Democratic National Committee criticized his opposition to the 2008 bailout of General Motors and Chrysler.

In the debate, Mr. Romney rejected the notion that voters should be wary of his core convictions and the Democratic charge that he didn’t always oppose the 2008 federal bail out the auto industry.

“I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do,” he said, before noting his that he has been married for 42 years, has attended the same church his entire life and worked at Bain consulting firm for 25 years.