Eight Republican presidential hopefuls took turns offering their thoughts on all aspects of the economy — and faith and trust — on the stage of a transformed O'rena on the campus of on Wednesday night.
In a nationally televised debate coordinated by the Michigan Republican Party, the university and CNBC, candidates Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum sparred on issues related to money, jobs, housing and taxes.
One of them, Michigan GOP Chairman Bobby Schostak, said at the start of the two-hour debate, could likely be the "next leader of the free world."
Outside the O'rena, – far fewer than the thousands of demonstrators expected. Across campus, a room full of students and community members and gave candidates real-time scores.
On Twitter, Facebook and media websites, voters reacted.
Here's a roundup of the highlights:
Cain on character
Previously considered a media-darling of sorts for his wit and performance at earlier debates, Cain had to answer questions about his character amid recent allegations of sexual harassment from four different women.
"The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations,” Cain said to loud applause from the audience. “This country's looking for leadership. And this is why a lot of people, despite what has happened over the last nine days, are still very enthusiastic behind my candidacy.”
Others on stage refrained from commenting on the matter.
When asked about his character and leadership, Romney played to his Michigan roots and said he has a record of consistency despite perceptions of moving to different sides of important issues.
"People know me pretty well in this state; they understand I’m a man of steadiness and constancy," he said.
Romney on the auto bailout
In recent days, Romney's flip-flop stance on whether the auto industry's bailout was good for Detroit has been taken to task. Debate moderators gave him a chance to clarify.
"I was here in the 1950s and 1960s when Detroit and Michigan was the pride of the nation," he said.
"I have seen this industry and I've seen this state go through tough times. And my view some years ago was that the federal government, by putting in place CAFE requirements that helped foreign automobiles gain market share in the U.S., was hurting Detroit. And so I said, where is Washington? They are not doing the job they ought to be doing."
Romney elaborated that whether the bailout was managed by Bush or Obama, it was wrong.
"I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process.
"My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout with the private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction as opposed to what we had with government playing its heavy hand."
The candidates on taxes
While Perry and Bachmann talked about a flat tax in general terms, Cain stayed on message throughout the two-hour debate, promoting his 9-9-9 Plan to implement a uniform system that taxes businesses, personal incomes and sales at 9 percent.
Romney said he’d like to make taxes “flatter,” but distinguished himself from the crowd by instead proposing to shave the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and by eliminating tax deals that he said have crushed the middle class under President Obama’s tenure.
“Ultimately, I'd love to see, see us come up with a plan that simplifies the code and lowers rates for everybody. But right now, let's get the job done first that has to be done immediately. Let's lower the tax rates on middle-income Americans.”
Bachmann said the biggest problem she sees are that only 53 percent of Americans are paying federal income taxes.
“What it does is create a mentality in the United States that says that freedom is free. But freedom isn't free,” she said. “We all benefit. We all need to sacrifice. Everybody has to be a part of this tax code.”
While most of the candidates agreed a true recovery won’t occur unless America can reverse a trend that has put more than 4 million homeowners behind on their mortgages or in foreclosure, their ideas on how to do it varied.
Gingrich said he believes the market can correct itself if given the proper climate, which meant repealing Dodd/Frank bank regulations that squeezed out smaller banks and lenders.
“You would see the housing market start to improve overnight. Dodd/Frank kills small banks, it kills small business. The federal regulators are anti-housing loan, and it has maximized the pain level,” he said.
Not specific to the housing crisis, Perry said if elected he’d implement a broad audit of all regulations enacted since Obama took office.
“The next president of the United States has to have the courage to go forward, pull back every regulation, since 2008, audit them for one thing: Is it creating jobs, or is it killing jobs? And if that regulation is killing jobs, do away with it,” he said.
Huntsman said the country is still suffering from a bigger dilemma: that some industries and companies are deemed “too big” to fail. He said he would right-size the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac government-sponsored mortgage groups to take the risk from taxpayers off the table.
“We can fix taxes. We can fix the regulatory environment. We can move toward energy independence,” he explained. “So long as we have instant banks that are too big to fail, we are setting ourselves up for long-term disaster and failure.”