The audience at the Republican presidential debate in a Detroit suburb tonight clearly wanted to hear the candidates debate economic issues — and they showed with cheers and jeers that they don’t consider Herman Cain’s recent problems with sexual harassment allegations fair game for the forum.
At the outset, it appeared that reporters and candidates would ignore the Cain controversy during the debate, entitled “Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate,” at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. Initial questions and answers were geared toward the economy.
Then CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo raised the issue of character with Cain, asking the former businessmans whether Americans would vote for him with such character questions on the table.
Initially taken aback and gasping a bit, the audience cheered when Cain answered that, "despite what has happened in the last nine days . . . people are still enthusiastic" about his campaign. "They say they don't care about this character assassination. They care about growing the economy."
The American people "deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations," he said.
Since the allegations that he harassed women when he headed the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s surfaced more than a week ago, "voters have voted with their dollars," and supported his campaign, he said.
Bartiromo pressed the issue, turning it into a question for candidate Mitt Romney and asking him whether, as a businessman, he would hire someone like Cain amid such a controversy.
That turn of the question brought boos from the audience, and Romney clearly looked pain as he spurned the query. The matter is up to Cain and the American people to decide, the former Massachusetts governor said.
Cain has responded to the questions and "people can make their own assessment," Romney said.
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