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Five things to watch for in GOP debate

By Jim Acosta, CNN Political Correspondent
updated 1:49 PM EST, Wed November 9, 2011
Will GOP candidates take on the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain at Wednesday's debate in Michigan?
Will GOP candidates take on the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain at Wednesday's debate in Michigan?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Will Herman Cain's rivals seize the moment at GOP debate?
  • Candidates have opening to comment on sex harassment allegations against Cain
  • Mitt Romney's plan to cut spending, entitlements likely will face scrutiny

Detroit (CNN) -- It might be best to call this "one thing to watch" at Wednesday night's debate in the suburbs of Detroit. Herman Cain's rivals have only begun to comment on the sexual harassment allegations facing the conservative businessman.

Will they go there? Will he go there?

In an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, Mitt Romney called the accusations "disturbing," meriting a "serious" response. Cain's less-than-serious handling of the matter on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Monday night gave the other candidates an opening.

The question is whether they will seize the moment. Tea party favorite Michele Bachmann could conceivably follow the lead set by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who called on Cain to drop out of the race if the allegations are true.

Just don't call it 'Romneycare' ...

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As for Romney, his plan to cut government spending dramatically and overhaul federal entitlements was largely overlooked during last week's episode of "As Cain's World Turns." The former Massachusetts governor would preserve Medicare for current retirees and those nearing the age of enrollment into the program. But Romney would partially privatize Medicare for future recipients, offering premium support payments -- i.e., vouchers -- to buy into the program or they could take their chances in the private insurance market. Speaking of Romney's offer to use that payment to stay in Medicare, how is that not a "public option"?

'Fight Night 2'?

The latest polls show Rick Perry's combative performance last month at the CNN debate in Las Vegas failed to pay off. He continues to trail front-runners Romney and Cain by a wide margin and, in some cases, lags behind Newt Gingrich. But during the scrappiest exchanges in what pundits dubbed "Fight Night," Perry did find some of Romney's pressure points. Romney got testy at times, putting his hand on Perry's shoulder.

Cue Jon Huntsman. He skipped the CNN debate. But last week he launched an ad that compared Romney to a flipping toy monkey, noting the ex-Massachusetts governor has changed his position on abortion. (Romney was for abortion rights before he was against them.) Never fear, Huntsman -- given your likely positioning on the debate stage, you'll be beyond Romney's reach.

The Newty professor

Gingrich is getting his groove back. Republicans have gushed over the former House speaker's professorial performance in the GOP debates. As a result, his poll numbers have bounced back from his less than Tiffany days at the beginning of the campaign. Gingrich now says he's the "tortoise" to Romney's "hare." That may not be a stretch. At the moment, he boasts the largest ground operation in South Carolina.

Unlike several other contenders, Gingrich is having fun. How much fun? While Romney and Perry groan over the number of debates, Gingrich has agreed to a round of additional Lincoln-Douglas contests with Cain. Should Cain bow out of the race, look for Gingrich to find a stand-in. Calling Rick Santorum.

Misery in Michigan

With its unemployment rate at 11.1%, Michigan voters deserve more than a food fight at Wednesday's debate. They need answers. In Michigan, the GOP field may find not all Republicans despise the federal bailouts of the auto industry. Look for the candidates to be challenged directly on whether General Motors and Chrysler would be better off today without aid from Uncle Sam. Perhaps there would be no Eminem ads touting the return of Chrysler.

Detroit is in such dire straits that its mayor is demolishing whole neighborhoods to save the city. Sure, the Motor City has a resurgent pro football team in the Detroit Lions. But what about the rest of Detroit? The same Republican Party that once boasted the likes of Jack Kemp, a former NFL quarterback who went on to pioneer empowerment zones for urban centers, has offered few ideas for rescuing the nation's decaying cities. Where are the GOP plans now?

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