The crowd at the Republican presidential debate at Oakland University in Michigan made it clear Wednesday night that it wanted to hear about the economy, and not harassment allegations against former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain dating back to the 1990s.
The crowd booed CNBC moderator Maria Bartiromo as she alluded to the allegations and asked Cain, “why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?” The debate was marketed beforehand as a discussion on the economy.
Cain responded: “The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations.”
The crowd then roared in approval.
Over the last week, Cain’s campaign has been thrown off message as news reports surfaced that women in the 1990s accused Cain of inappropriate behavior as he led the National Restaurant Association.
“I value my character and my integrity more than anything else,” Cain said, “and for every person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably, there are thousands, who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.”
Cain added: “You are right. This country is looking for leadership. And this why a lot of people, despite what has happened over the last nine days, are still very enthusiastic behind my candidacy.”
“Over the last nine days, the voters have voted with their dollars and they are saying they don’t care about the character assassination, they care about leadership and getting this economy growing and all of the other problems we face,” Cain said.
Moving onto the next question, CNBC’s John Harwood then was booed when he asked former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who in the private sector purchased companies, if he would keep Cain on as CEO if he had bought his company knowing of the accusations.
“Look, Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions,” Romney said to applause. “He just did. The people in this room and across the country can make their own assessment on that.”
The crowd then roared into approval when Harwood said the next question would be back on the economy.