GOP Candidates Question Economic Plans

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HANOVER, N.H. -- The economy ruled Tuesday night's debate of the Republican candidates for president sponsored by Bloomberg Television and the Washington Post.

All of the candidates sat around a table, questioned each other and tried to sell their plans to get America back to work.

The first question went to businessman Herman Cain whose rise in the polls gave him a prominent seat between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

It also helped make him and his 999 economic plan a popular target.

"I think it's a catchy phrase. In fact, I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it," Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman told Cain as the audience laughed.

"And one thing I would say is when you take the 999 plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil is in the details," said Rep. Michele Bachman.

"(The) 999 will pass and it is not the price of a pizza because it has been well studied and well developed," Cain replied.

"It starts with, unlike your proposals, throwing out the current tax code. Continuing to pivot off the current tax code is not going to boost this economy," he said.

When the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions, Cain questioned Romney.

"Can you name all 59 points in your 160-page plan, and does it satisfy that criteria of being simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral?" he asked.

"Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems. And I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate," Romney replied.

Cain has surged in the polls and is now running second to Romney in New Hampshire. But political insiders say he must beef up his campaign in a hurry if he wants to maintain his momentum.

At the end of the day, New Hampshire Republicans are lookng for the candidate who can beat President Obama.

"Herman Cain has been here once since the beginning of August. That's not how you win New Hampshire," said James Pindell, a New Hampshire political analyst for Manchester television station WMUR.

"He has two staffers in the state, neither one has had any experience at any New Hampshire campaigns at all," he said.

Romney went into the debate with a major boost, the endorsement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

"You can't get the country to go in the right direction and get Washington to work if you don't have a president that's a leader," Christie said.

Perry will release his economic plan over the next few days. Phase one: greater energy independence.

"We're sitting on this absolute treasure trove of energy in this country. And I don't need 999 and we don't need any plan to pass Congress," Perry said. 

"We need to get a president of the United States who is committed for passing types of regulations, pulling the regulations back, freeing this country to go develop the energy in this country," he said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said the best help for the least of those among us starts at home.

"The biggest problem with poverty in America -- that we don't talk about here because it's an economic discussion -- is the breakdown of the American family," he said.

Conservative crowd pleaser Rep. Ron Paul stuck to his libertarian guns.

"We have to understand that a free market system and sound money gives us the prosperity and it also is the humanitarian program. Because once you get into the welfare state and a socialist state, it all backfires," Paul said.

Although Romney leads in the Granite State, a University of Hew Hampshire poll shows only one-tenth of Republicans have settled on a candidate.

"If you're Mitt Romney today, you have to like the lead you have at this very important state of New Hampshire," Pindell said. "At the same time you have to be very nervous that anything can change on a dime."

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.