Mitt Romney gave a confident performance against his Republican rivals in the seventh debate Tuesday, all but ignoring Rick Perry in favor of Michele Bachmann, and presenting himself as the best candidate to take on President Barack Obama, the New York Times reports.
Meanwhile, Herman Cain, whose popularity has risen to within 2 percentage points of Romney according to a Gallup Poll, found himself battling criticism from several sides.
He was grilled on his so-called "9-9-9" plan, which calls for a flat income tax and a national consumption tax, USA Today reports.
Cain has released few details about the plan, but the Tax Foundation and the Urban Institute caution that such a scheme "is likely to transfer the tax burden to lower-income Americans and be a financial boon for the wealthy," USA Today reports.
Romney told Cain that "simple answers are — are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate."
Rick Santorum reportedly said that Cain's plan couldn't pass Congress, and Jon Huntsman dismissed it as "a catchy phrase," adding: "I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it." Cain is the former CEO of Gofather's Pizza.
Bachmann cut in on the action, telling Cain: "When you take the 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside down... The devil's in the details." It was taken as a reference to 666 — the "number of the beast" in the Bible.
Bachmann suggested that Cain's tax plan wouldn't improve the nation's unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.
(GlobalPost reports: Senate votes to block Obama's jobs bill)
In a debate that focused on the nation’s economic woes, Romney defended "elements of the Wall Street bailout as an imperfect but necessary solution," the New York Times reports.
"Nobody likes the idea of a Wall Street bailout, I certainly don’t," he said
"Was it perfect? No. Was it well implemented? No, not particularly. Should they have used the funds to bail out General Motors and Chrysler? No, that was the wrong source for that funding. But this approach of saying, look, we’re going to have to preserve our currency and maintain America — and our financial system is essential."
(GlobalPost reports: Chris Christie will endorse Mitt Romney for president)
Perry, meanwhile, whose support has fallen by half owing largely to poor performances in the last two debates, reportedly went for long stretches without being recognized by the moderators of the debate, sponsored by the Washington Post and Bloomberg and held at at Spaulding Auditorium on the Dartmouth College campus.
In one of his few attempts to enter the debate, he asked Romney — a former Massachusetts governor — what ABC News described as a "gotcha" question:
"Governor Romney, your chief economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, who you know well, he said that Romneycare was Obamacare. And Romneycare has driven the cost of small-business insurance premiums up by 14 percent over the national average in Massachusetts. So my question for you would be: How would you respond to his criticism of your signature legislative achievement?"
"You know, the great thing about running for president is to get the chance also to talk about your experience as a governor. And I’m proud of the fact that we took on a major problem in my state."
Romney brushed off an interjection by Perry to continue:
"We have less than 1 percent of our kids that are uninsured. You have a million kids uninsured in Texas. A million kids. Under President Bush, the percentage uninsured went down. Under your leadership, it’s gone up.
"I care about people. Now, our plan isn’t perfect. Glenn Hubbard is a fine fellow. Take a look at his quote. Some people say that. Just because some people say something doesn’t mean it’s true."