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Debate Big on Campus, But Cain Charges Aren't

Wednesday, 9 Nov 2011 | 4:08 PM ET
Herman Cain
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Herman Cain

Sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain have helped propel the Republican presidential fight back onto the front pages across the nation.

At 40,000-strong Oakland University, though, excitement over the charges lodged against the GOP front-runner are generating — well, let’s just say a tad less furor.

While the salacious stories over what Cain did or didn’t do at the National Restaurant Association have provided ample fodder for the punditry, college students here are far more concerned over what happens when they’re not students anymore.

“We all have stuff in our past that we do that we regret,” says OU senior Alexandra Hedden. “You move on.”

What’s on her mind is whether Cain or any of the other hopefuls have the right prescription for what’s ailing the U.S. economy.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t want to have somebody be president who does those kinds of things. But with everything else going on, there are bigger issues,” Hedden says. “If he has a plan to deal with the other problems, that should be the focus.”

Not that Cain seems to have a big support base on campus.

“He’s not going to have a chance anyway,” says Hedden’s friend and fellow senior, Dana Hapanowicz. “But we should be looking at other things.”

Indeed, paramount among those other things is — wait for it — whether there actually will be any jobs out there when they graduate. The economy is limping along with a 9 percent unemployment rate that virtually no economists believe is going anywhere soon.

Ideas for employment are what the students will be watching for during tonight’s candidate debate that CNBC is moderating.

Excitement over the debate is palpable, but concern over the Cain charges is not.

"I love the fact that OU is hosting this," says Alyssa Halva, a sophomore history major. “I just want to hear what everyone has to say."

Of special concern, she says, are “jobs, especially here in Michigan.”

In fact, in interview after interview around campus nobody brings up the Cain allegations — anecdotally, Mitt Romney seems to be the favorite — and when the question is put to them the general reaction is a shrug. Even from those showing concern, there seem to be caveats.

“Yeah, sexual harassment is very serious,” freshman Koryne McKean says excitedly. However, she adds, “I don’t know if I would believe the women.”

So, while Cain’s opponents may want to make hay with the allegations elsewhere, it’s probably not going to fly very far on this campus.

“I’m still waiting to see how everything settles out,” says Zuzanna Gos, also a freshman. “This election is going to be huge.”

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