Jackie Gingrich Cushman

"It's the economy stupid" is the infamous mantra conceived by political consultant James Carville that underscored the main issue driving the 1992 presidential race. A few months later, Bill Clinton replaced George H.W. Bush (41) as president, and it was the focus on the economy that got him there.

Today, with lingering high unemployment (hovering at 9 percent with 25 million Americans either unemployed underemployed or discouraged), the presidential election is once again focused on the economy. So it seemed to make sense that the Bloomberg/Washington Post Republican presidential debate held Tuesday night at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., focused only on the economy.

Included in the debate were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Instead of standing at podiums facing the audience, the candidates were seated at an oval table with their three questioners, PBS Anchor Charlie Rose, Washington Post Political Correspondent Karen Tumulty and Bloomberg Television White House Correspondent Juliana Goldman.

Rose laid out the theme: "This debate is different and distinctive. It is only about the economy. So we debate this evening about spending and taxes, deficit and debt, about the present and the future, about rich and poor, and about the role of government."

The next almost two hours focused on the economy and jobs. There were no great surprises. Romney was relaxed, polished and commanded the most time as the front-runner; Cain focused on his 9-9-9 plan (which is not, as Huntsman suggested, the price of a pizza, but Cain's tax plan); Perry showed up, but watchers could barely notice; Gingrich (my father), again showed a greater depth and breadth of knowledge than the rest; Paul focused on the Federal Reserve; Bachmann focused on repealing Obamacare; Santorum landed a few punches on Cain while focusing on the family; and Huntsman focused on delivering a few laugh lines.

The juxtaposition between the debate topics and the news that broke on networks Tuesday about the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel-Jubeir, was a reminder that, while it might be "the economy stupid" so far in the 2012 presidential race, national security Issues are also always important.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.