Economy takes center stage at GOP debate


But this time, the dynamic was different because the front-runner has changed since the last debate.

This was the first GOP debate since businessman Herman Cain has catapulted to second place in national and state polls.

The debate focused solely on the economy and the candidates all tried to make the case that they would better handle the issue than President Barack Obama.

GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney looked beyond his republican rivals and instead took direct aim at Obama, accusing him of failing to lead.

"He said he'd bring us hope and change. Instead he's divided the nation and tried to blame other people," the former Massachusetts governor said.

National polls determined the debate's seating arrangement at the Bloomberg-Washington Post debate. Cain is in a solid second place, putting him right next to Romney and making him a target for the rest of the field.

Cain's "9-9-9" economic plan calls for a 9 percent business flat tax, 9 percent personal income flat tax and 9 percent sales tax.

"What 9-9-9 does, it expands the base," Cain said. "When you expand the base, we can arrive at the lowest possible rate which, is 9-9-9."

However, it was the subject of criticism by other candidates.

"When you take 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside down, I think the devil's in the details," Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said.

"I think it's a catchy phrase," Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said. "In fact, I thought it was the price of pizza when I first heard about it."

Perry was the frontrunner at one point, but he's fallen sharply in the polls.

At the debate, he seemed to be itching to spar with Romney, but Perry didn't land any significant punches and was short on details when asked about his economic plan.

"I'm not going to lay it all out for you tonight," Perry said. "Mitt's had six years to lay out a plan. I've been in this eight weeks."

Perry said he will begin rolling out his platform in the coming days, beginning with a speech later this week on boosting domestic energy production.

Earlier Tuesday, Romney received New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's endorsement, which could help him win over some skeptical Republicans.

"America cannot survive another four years of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is the man we need to lead America and we need him now," Christie said.

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