Cain again denies harassment allegations in GOP debate

Herman Cain defended himself during a debate hosted by CNBC in Michigan on Wednesday.

Story highlights

  • The audience at a GOP debate boos a moderator's question to Herman Cain
  • Question: "Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?"
  • Cain: "The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion"

Appearing Wednesday at a presidential debate in Michigan focused primarily on economic matters, Republican Herman Cain again faced down questions about the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed his campaign and the Republican race for the White House.

"Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?" Cain was asked by one of the moderators, Maria Bartiromo of CNBC, in the early moments of the debate.

The crowd at Oakland University in suburban Detroit loudly booed the question, but Cain maintained a straight face and denied that he has acted inappropriately around any woman.

"The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion," Cain answered. "I value my character and my integrity more than anything else. One person comes forward with a false accusation, and there are probably thousands who would say none of that activity came from Herman Cain."

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Though polling indicates that Republicans have some concerns about the scandal, Cain said Americans are "still very enthusiastic about my candidacy" and have responded with a flood of campaign donations.

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When the other moderator, John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times, asked Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney if he would fire Cain from a company after learning about the allegations, he was also booed.

"Would you keep Herman Cain as CEO knowing what you know?" Harwood asked.

Romney, who called the harassment allegations "disturbing" and "serious" on Tuesday, did not answer.

"Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions," the former governor of Massachusetts said.

The debate, sponsored by the Michigan Republican Party and CNBC, featured eight candidates: Cain, Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The contenders were also asked about the European debt crisis, the bailout of the American auto industry, the 2008 Wall Street bailout and the tax code.