GOP Debate: US Economy Can Grow With Less Government
Big Choice for Voters
The GOP race thus far has amounted to a carousel of flavors-of-the-week, with voters unsure whether to pick quick-witted businessmen, dapper ex-governors or darlings of the tea party right.
Romney said picking the right candidate is important to defeat a president who cares more about his political aspirations than getting the country on the right track.
"What we have now is a president who unfortunately is driven by one thing — his re-election," Romney said. "It's unbelievable that we have a crisis going on in America like we have and we have a president who is only focused on getting re-elected."
Among the students on campus here, there was high anticipation and anxiety over what the Republicans can tell them about their future, which includes questions over the economy at home and abroad, where European debt turmoilserves as a daily reminder about how uncertain conditions are ahead.
Each candidate has asserted superiority on that area, but their plans have several common denominators.
Simplifying the tax code and broadening the tax base — getting more people to pay — has been the cornerstone, with many advocating a flat tax that eliminates the legion of loopholes that has made generating revenue an increasingly difficult proposition for the debt-laden federal government.
Cain, who joins Romney atop the field in most polls, has managed to capture the attention of many Republican voters in this regard.
His 9-9-9 tax plan — which opponents deride as sounding like a special on the pizzas Cain's former company, Godfather's, makes — would implement an across-the-board levy on sales, income and business revenues.
The plan's benefits are that it simplifies the system and tosses aside most of the tax code's byzantine structure that allows the rich to avoid paying their fair share.
Critics, though, suggest that 9-9-9 actually would raise taxes on poor people. His most severe detractors allege that Cain himself doesn't fully understand how the plan works.
He pledged that the numbers in his plan would not escalate should politicians decide they need more money to run government.
"Tax codes do not raise taxes, politicians do. The people will hold the politicians' feet to the fire," Cain said to applause. "Because the approach 9-9-9 will be very visible, the American people are going to hold the rates at 9."
Perry, too, has proposed a flat tax, but his plan has met with skeptics over the option for taxpayers to choose his plan or stick with the old tax code.
One of the other main topics is how to cope with the nation's $15 trillion debt and $1.3 trillion debt while trying to help an economy that grew at just 2 percent in the last quarter.
Raising taxes is anathema, though, to the Republican base, so the candidates have tried to sell their tax plans as both growth-friendly and less burdensome on those suffering most during the downturn.
"We're looking for a person to win this nomination and show a consolidated, reliable resolve to reduce and focus on a small government, on the essential task of government while engaging in the policies that encourage growth in the private sector," Dick Armey, former House Republican majority leader and tea party organizer, told CNBC.
Voters have been fickle about whom they see as most able to accomplish those goals.
Polling in recent weeks showed a two-man matchup between Cain and Romney.
Perry's position has been the most volatile.
He declared his candidacy on Aug. 13 and vaulted to the status of immediate front-runner, but has seen his fortunes slip during Cain's emergence. Cain's primary weakness has been debates just such as these, where he has had difficulty displaying the vision and charm he uses to sway crowds along the campaign trail.
The candidates also teed off on China, with Romney blasting "cheaters like China" and both he and Gingrich saying the U.S. needs to impose penalties even if it risks a trade way.
Huntsman — the former ambassador to China under Obama — said that would be a mistake.
"We've had a 40-year relationship with China. It is a troublesome and problematic relationship, very complicated," he said. "You can throw out applause lines and say that you're going to slap on tariffs. That doesn't work."