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Republican rivals turn up the heat in debate
Occupy New Hampshire protesters march across the St. Anselm College campus in Goffstown before the start of the presidential debate Saturday night. (KATE HARPER)
GOFFSTOWN — The six GOP White House hopefuls turned their verbal fire on each other Saturday night in the first of two high-stakes weekend debates.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said he didn't consider former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's economic blueprint “particularly bold” or focused on where the country's problems are today.
Romney “used a term earlier that — that I shrink from, and it's one that I don't think we should be using as Republicans: ‘middle class,'” Santorum said during the nationally televised debate at the Dana Center at St. Anselm College.
“There are no classes in America. We are a country that doesn't allow for titles. We don't put people in classes,” Santorum said during the 100-minute debate. “There may be middle-income people, but the idea that somehow or another we're going to buy into the class warfare arguments of Barack Obama is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon. That's their job — divide, separate, put one group against another.”
Earlier, Texas Rep. Ron Paul challenged Santorum's conservative credentials .
“He's a big government, big spending individual,” Paul said during the debate, carried live on WMUR-TV and ABC. “Because, you know, he preached to the fact he wanted a balanced-budget amendment but voted to raise the debt ... five times. So he is a big government person.”
Santorum, trying to build on momentum gained from his virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses last week, fought back by saying he voted for a balanced-budget amendment and a line-item veto.
“I am not a libertarian, Ron,” Santorum said. “You vote against everything. I don't vote against everything. I do vote for some spending. I do think government has a role to play.”
Later, Santorum later jabbed Paul's foreign policy, citing the U.S. Navy's recent rescue of Iranian fishermen.
“Well, Ron, if we had your foreign policy, there wouldn't have been a fleet there to pick up the Iranian fishermen,” Santorum said. “And the fact is, we did have a beneficial relationship with picking them up, and we have a very great relationship, and which should be much better, with the Iranian people.”
The candidates are slated to debate again only 10 hours after Saturday's debate wrapped up. The NBC News-Facebook “Meet the Press” Debate, in partnership with the New Hampshire Union Leader, starts at 9 a.m. today at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord. The debate will air live from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on all three NBC stations watched in New Hampshire: WHDH-Channel 7 from Boston, WCSH-Channel 6 from Portland, Maine, and WNNE-Channel 31 from White River Junction, Vt.
Romney, who praised his rivals more than criticized them, challenged Jon Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China, for not being willing to talk tougher with Chinese leaders over foreign trade.
Huntsman said what Romney advocated would lead to a trade war.
But Romney said he would tell the Chinese, “I will not let you kill American jobs any longer.”
Romney also said while Huntsman for the last two years was “implementing the policies of this administration in China, the rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this President from being put forward.”
The news media contingent of about 700 dwarfed the number of guests — about 400 — inside the debate hall itself, according to college spokeswoman Barbara LeBlanc. News outlets as diverse as the Irish Times and GQ Magazine requested media credentials.
Paul criticized leaders, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who didn't wear a military uniform but would send other Americans into war.
“I think people who don't serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments aren't, they have no right to send our kids off to war,” Paul said.
Gingrich, whose father served in the military, shot back, “Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question.”
Gingrich reiterated his support of burying power lines associated with the controversial Northern Pass project.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who isn't actively campaigning in New Hampshire, said he would send U.S. troops back into Iraq.
“The idea that we allow the Iranians to come back into Iraq and take over that country, with all of the treasure, both in blood and money, that we have spent in Iraq, because this President wants to kow-tow to his liberal, leftist base and move out those men and women,” Perry said. “We're going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in at literally the speed of light. They're going to move back in, and all of the work that we've done, every young man that has lost his life in that country will have been for nothing because we've got a President that does not understand what's going on in that region.”
Santorum hit Romney's contention that the nation needs an experienced manager to lead the nation.
“The commander-in-chief of this country isn't a CEO,” Santorum said, saying a President can't direct members of Congress to do things. “You've got to lead and inspire.”
Romney said Santorum had it wrong.
“I think people who spend their life in Washington don't understand what happens out in the real economy,” said Romney, who headed a successful private equity company. “They think that people who start businesses are just managers.
People who start as entrepreneurs that start a business from the ground up and get customers and get investors and hire people to join them, those people are leaders.”
During his tenure as Utah's governor, Huntsman said, he was able to deliver a flat tax and Utah ranked tops in job creation, “and we reformed health care without a mandate. We took our state to Number 1 as the most business-friendly state in America.”
Romney praised him, saying, “I congratulate Governor Huntsman on the success in his governorship to make the state more attractive for business.”
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