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GOP debate: Candidates blast Obama, but avoid attacking each other

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 13. 2011 10:19PM
From left, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty listen to Herman Cain answer a question during the Republican debate Monday at St. Anselm College. (Josh Gibney)

GOFFSTOWN - The contenders in the Republican presidential primary spent Monday's debate at St. Anselm College talking about themselves, the economy, job creation, tax cuts and beating up on President Barack Obama.

The seven candidates for president - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota used the debate to officially announce her candidacy - continuously attacked the president on health care, spending and taxes, but also continued to avoid any pointed attacks on each other.

'Any person on this stage would be a better president than President Obama,' said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Monday's debate was sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader, CNN and WMUR and was held at St. Anselm College's Sullivan Arena. New Hampshire hosts the nation's first primary elections.

It wasn't that the moderator - CNN anchor John King - and other questioners didn't try to get them to talk about each other - or, more specifically, Romney, who has consistently led polls and was positioned at the center podium.

While talking about health care, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was grilled by King about his recent coining of the term 'Obamneycare,' tying the national and Massachusetts health care reform laws' nicknames together.

While governor, Romney presided over the passage of the Massachusetts health care law.

Pawlenty at first did not address the question, but King pressed: 'If it was 'Obamneycare' at Fox News Sunday, why isn't it Obamneycare with (Romney) standing right there?'

Pawlenty backed off, though, and said only that his comment was a reflection of the president's comments that he used the Massachusetts health care reform law as the blueprint for the national health care reform law.

Romney declined to address the "Obamneycare" comment and instead turned his attack on the President. He said the Massachusetts plan differed because it was a plan conceived and adopted by a state, rather than a federal mandate, that didn't raise taxes.

'If (Obama) did look to Massachusetts, why didn't he give me a call and ask me what worked and what didn't work?' Romney said. 'I will repeal Obamacare if I am elected president.'

WMUR anchor Jennifer Vaughn asked former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania whether he believed Romney, a former supporter of abortion rights, changed to a pro-life position out of authenticity or as a political calculation.

Santorum dodged the question, though.

'Voters should be able to know that their president has a clear record on their position. I think the record will clearly show that I have consistently been pro-life,' Santorum said.

King again tried to push the issue, asking the candidates whether Romney's position change was still an issue.

Businessman Herman Cain, who identified himself during introductions as the only non-politician in the race, answered for all of them: 'Case closed.'

The debate was held hours after CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation released a poll that showed Romney leading all contenders with 24 percent of votes among independents and Republicans.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, neither of whom have declared their candidacy nor participated in Monday's debate, came in second and third, with 20 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Monday was the second time Republican presidential hopefuls debated, though Romney, Bachmann and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, did not participate in the first debate, held May 5 in Greenville, S.C.

The topics ranged from the economy, the national debt, job creation, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, border security and immigration, space exploration and, in a tongue-in-cheek turn offered by King, personal questions such as 'deep dish or thin crust,' 'Blackberry or iPhone' and 'Dancing With the Stars or American Idol?'

On the subject of Medicare, most candidates said they supported a proposal by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has proposed deep cuts to the federal budget and to changes to the Medicare plan.

Responding to a question from a doctor in the audience, who said he'd been paying into Medicare his entire working career, Cain said: 'I'm sorry to say this, doctor, but you're not going to get more out of Medicare than you've put in if we continue with the program as it is run today.'

However, Gingrich, who is in something of a rebound mode after much of his campaign staff resigned last week, said Republicans may have to slow down from the plan, which he referred to in the past as 'right-wing social engineering.' He said Republicans should take care against forcing a plan on people if they don't understand or support it.

'Remember, we all got mad at Obama because he ran right over us,' he said. 'Republicans ought to follow the same rule and not repeat that mistake.'

The candidates offered similar comments on how to motivate the economy, with each of them saying they would lower taxes and decrease regulation to spur economic growth and job creation.

'We have the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world,' Bachmann said.

'The word from manufacturers is get the government off my back and as president I will,' Pawlenty said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said the Federal Reserve's policies, which he said have weakened the dollar, have to be changed.

'As long as you run programs that are deliberately weakening our currency, we will continue to export our jobs,' he said.

Six of the candidates said they would support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Only Cain said he believed that the issue should be left to states to decide, though Bachmann added that while she would support a constitutional amendment, she would not interfere with a state's decision to allow same-sex marriage.

The candidates offered different proposals for how to handle the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as efforts to combat al-Qaeda operations in other countries.

Some said they would continue some operations or would consult with military leaders when deciding when to withdraw troops.

Paul, though, said he would withdraw all troops immediately.

'We have no purpose over there,' he said. 'Our presence there is not making any friends over there, let me tell you.'

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