Economic debate features sparring, jabbing and joking

David Martosko Executive Editor
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HANOVER, N.H. –- During an unusual presidential debate in which eight Republican candidates sat around what moderator Charlie Rose called a “kitchen table” for a talk about the economy, a narrow set of topics including jobs, deficits and debt attracted the kind of attention reserved for social issues in other candidate clashes.

The debate, hosted by Dartmouth College, included Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

Cain took the first question, offering his “9-9-9” plan as a solution for America’s struggling economy. He would start as president, he said, with “scrapping” the entire U.S. tax code.

Perry began his evening promoting what he described as a hybrid of employment and energy programs, saying he would focus on “putting 1.2 million Americans to work in the energy industry. You don’t need Congress to do that.” In a clear nod to greater oil and gas exploration, Perry said a movement toward “energy independence” would provide crucial American jobs.

Romney focused on what he called a lack of leadership under President Obama. “Obama has divided the nation and tried to blame it on other people,” he said, while allowing for the importance of “find[ing] common ground from time to time” with Democrats.

Bachmann blamed her own institution, the U.S. Congress, for the historical set-up to the current economic climate. The Community Reinvestment Act, she said, combined with Congressman Barney Frank and former Senator Chris Dodd’s joint legislative achievement, hobbled the financial services sector. “The federal government said ‘we won’t let you merge, we won’t let you grow,’ she complained.

Gingrich had the first applause line, and the most fire in the belly early on. “Virtually every American has reason to be angry,” he said. Gingrich drew clear comparisons between “left-wing agitators’” at recent “Occupy Wall street” protests and tea party activists “who actually care.”

David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor and a Dartmouth alumnus. Follow him on Twitter