To audible boos and groans, CNBC debate host Maria Bartiromo on Wednesday asked GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain the question we'd been girding ourselves for -- his sexual harassment allegations. It's an odd fit for a debate on the economy, and Bartiromo had to couch it in terms of "leadership" and "character" in order to get it in. It only barely did -- the audience was not happy to hear this inquiry coming up.
Cain responded, "The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations." That altered the mood of the audience instantaneously. (No one seems to mind that the Cain campaign had only recently levied unfounded accusations against a former Politico reporter based solely on the weird idea that he was related to one of his accusers.)
"For every person who'd come forward with a false accusation," Cain said, "there are thousands who will say 'I never saw that from Herman Cain.'"
The moderators made an attempt to bring Mitt Romney into this conversation. Again came an adverse reaction from the audience. Romney knew better than to get mixed up in Cain's mess: "Herman Cain is the person who should address that, and he did."
John Harwood threw the debate back to Jon Huntsman: "I'd like to switch back to the economy." Big cheers from the audience, and Cain's in the clear.