There was more discussion about business executive Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax reform proposal than any other individual issue, in large part because Cain frequently mentioned it, but also because other candidates questioned its merits. At one point, debate moderator Charlie Rose advised the candidates if they persisted in bringing up the "9-9-9" proposal, he would be obligated to give Cain that much more response time -- suggesting that would accord the former Godfather's Pizza mogul a disproportionate share of air time.
The candidates took turns blaming government for America's economic downturn, singling out legislation passed in the wake of Wall Street meltdowns and asserting that President Barack Obama's policies are responsible for high unemployment and the sluggish economy in general.
"I think if you look at the problem with the economic meltdown, you can trace it right back to the federal government," Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said.
At one point, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., should go to jail. However, Gingrich also said the administration of former President George W. Bush also contributed to the downturn.
Cain said he had two candidates in mind to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve but he was not prepared to name them publicly. He said his choice for the job would be someone like former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
"No," said Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. "Alan Greenspan was a disaster."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he will announce a plan during the next three days for energy independence.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at one point during the debate defended the 2008 bailout of Wall Street financial institutions, while criticizing its implementation.
"Action had to be taken," Romney said. "Was it perfect? No.
"You don't want to bail out anybody to save a company. The idea of bailing out an institution to protect the shareholders. You do want to make sure that we don't lose our country or the banking system or American jobs."
During a portion of the debate during which candidates questioned each other, Cain asked Romney if he could name "all 59 points in your 160-page" proposal to reform the tax system. Romney said simple solutions are "oftentimes inadequate" and getting the U.S. economy "restructured fundamentally" will require a complex approach.
Two state polls put Perry in single digits behind Romney and Cain before the debate at Dartmouth College. It was the first GOP debate held since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and 2008 vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, both popular GOP figures, announced they would sit out the White House race. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced Tuesday he would not be a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.
Perry garnered 4 percent in separate Harvard University-St. Anselm College and WMUR-TV-University of New Hampshire public-opinion polls released Monday -- after previous debate performances most analysts deemed shaky.
Romney drew support from 38 percent of likely New Hampshire primary voters, with Cain second at 20 percent, the Harvard-St. Anselm poll taken last week indicated.
Paul was third with 13 percent, followed by Gingrich with 5 percent, and Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. each with 4 percent. Bachmann had 3 percent and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania each had 1 percent.
The poll's margin of error was 4.4 percentage points.
The WMUR-UNH poll, conducted Sept. 26 to Oct. 6, indicated Romney was the favorite among 37 percent of likely Republican voters. Cain was next with 12 percent.
Paul (9 percent), Huntsman (tied at 8 percent with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has not declared his candidacy) and Gingrich (4 percent) were followed by Perry, Bachmann and Santorum at 2 percent.
Its margin of error was 5.3 percentage points.
Perry's campaign said he would give his first major policy address of the campaign in Pittsburgh Friday. The speech would talk about his jobs plan and touch on energy issues and deregulation, a campaign spokesman told MSNBC.
Perry's campaign also came out with a campaign video harshly attacking Romney's Massachusetts healthcare reform policy. The Web-only ad closes by adapting one of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign slogans -- "Romney: Change you can believe in?"
Romney responded, telling a New Hampshire town hall meeting the "little ad" was an example of political "obfuscation and bewilderment."