The candidates were interviewed separately by a PBS reporter and Gov. Terry Branstad (R) in Pella, Iowa, at a forum sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers that focused exclusively on economic issues.

Rick Perry slammed tax breaks for any energy development. “Government needs to get completely out of the energy business … and in exchange, you get rid of all those regulations,” he said. “Whether you’re in the oil-and-gas business, and the tax credits that take it, whether you’re in the ethanol business and the renewable fuels standards, it’s not the federal government’s business of picking winners and losers.”

His sentiment was echoed by Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBachmann won't run for Franken's Senate seat because she did not hear a 'call from God' Billboard from ‘God’ tells Michele Bachmann not to run for Senate Pawlenty opts out of Senate run in Minnesota MORE and Ron Paul. Santorum called for a phase-out of all tax credits for energy resources but offered tepid support for a national renewable energy standard that would require a certain percent of energy production to come from renewable sources, a standard already implemented in 39 states.

Newt Gingrich offered a more full-throated defense of the federal government helping with renewable energy. “If you’re talking about basic research the U.S. government is immensely important,” he said, arguing that “it’s legitimate to have biases for what you want” in production and that that doesn't not count as picking winners and losers in the marketplace. He also did not rule out tax credits for renewable energy.

The candidates all called for cutting government regulation of business and praised free trade as a way to stimulate economic growth. None were asked, and none opted to talk about, the ongoing controversy about whether Herman Cain sexually harassed two of his employees while he was head of the National Restaurant Association.