Debate crowd cheers Cain in face of sexual harassment claims

Onstage at his first presidential debate since sexual harassment allegations against him emerged more than a week ago, Herman Cain dismissed the accusations as a "character assassination" Wednesday — and was enthusiastically backed up by the debate audience.

Those in the crowd at the CNBC debate booed moderator Maria Bartiromo when she asked Cain about whether he had the character needed for the nation's highest office.

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"The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of pubic opinion, based on unfounded accusations," said Cain, whose campaign is in crisis mode after four women accused him of sexually harassing them years ago.

Cain has said repeatedly that he has never acted inappropriately toward anyone, and judging from the raucous applause incited by his answer, much of the audience at the debate believed him.

"I value my character and my integrity more than anything else in the world, and for every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are thousands who could say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain," he said.



The audience also reacted with audible boos when another moderator asked Mitt Romney, Cain's top challenger for the GOP nomination, whether as a CEO, Romney would have fired someone accused of the allegations against Cain.


"Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions. He just did," Romney said to boisterous applause.

Audience members also cheered loudly when the following question, directed toward Jon Huntsman, reverted to discussion of the economy and not the scandal that has engulfed the Cain campaign.