GOP Candidates Debate Economy, 999 (and 666) in New Hampshire

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Anna Sale, political reporter for It's a Free Country, discusses Tuesday night's GOP debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

The Republican contenders squared off again in Hanover, New Hampshire to debate the economy and what each candidate might do to fix it. The debate was moderated by Charlie Rose and the candidates sat around a table; no podiums to hide behind on this one.

Mitt Romney kept his eye toward the general election as he carefully responded to questions, including one about how he might reach across the aisle in an increasingly partisan Washington - by working with "good Democrats" and keeping his vision clear.

You have to stand by your principals. At the same time, you know that good Democrats and good Republicans who love the country first will be able to find common ground from time to time and recognize that we can't keep on spending like we're spending...

It's A Free Country reporter Anna Sale said that Romney is really is playing both sides here.

[He] is positioning himself as the candidate that is prepared to govern..but then he says but you can't compromise on your principles, so how does he define that? He goes on to say that you can't increase taxes because that kills jobs and hurts working families, so if that's your line in the sand, it's not going to be much different than what we have now in Washington.

When Romney was asked about the Wall Street bailouts, he said the bailouts were integral to saving the economy from collapse. They weren't implemented perfectly, and yes, he said, there were some institutions that shouldn't have been bailed out, but it needed to happen. Sale said, this is where the Republican field of candidates splits.

There weren't many places where they really split on policy but in the debates, the TARP, whether that was necessary and appropriate, was where they split about fifty-fifty, which is in line with the kind of hard-line Tea Party candidates and then sort of the more establishment candidates. Mitt Romney is trying to position himself as the man who is going to make the smart decisions to keep the economy from collapsing.

Herman Cain also shined during Tuesday night's debate. Repetition was evident; he said the number "nine" 36 times throughout the debate. The 9-9-9 Tax Plan is Cain's signature strategy to repair the economy. His proposal includes nine percent corporate business flat tax, nine percent personal income flat tax and a nine percent national sales tax. 

It expands the base. When you expand the base, we can arrive at the lowest possible rate which is 9-9-9. The difference between the 9-9-9 plan and the other plans that are being proposed is that they pivot off the existing tax codes.

Michele Bachmann, another Republican contender and a former IRS tax lawyer, said this plan is not the way to go. In fact "the devil is in the details," especially when you turn it "upside down," she laughed. So did Brian Lehrer and Anna Sale:

BL: Oh, Anna, did she really go there?

AS: She did! Yes,what a line! 

BL: She's appealing to somebody on the religious fringes there, right? 666 for people who don't know, in some telling of something, the mark of the devil.

It wasn't long ago that Bachmann was ahead of the game, but now it's Herman Cain. Sale said he currently holds the number two slot in the polls, both in New Hampshire and nationally.

So much of the debate was about the 9-9-9 plan. It wasn't about how Romney wants to fix the economy. It wasn't about what President Obama has failed to do. It was about whether 9-9-9 would work and whether it's a good idea. And so Herman Cain is really influencing the debate.

As for the crowd watching the Republicans debate? Sale said inside, it was full of supporters, but not outside.

Out on the Dartmouth green there were protests. It kind of had the look of Occupy Wall Street, people were shouting were behind the Bloomberg anchors who were hosting the event...it was a raucous atmosphere.