POLITICS

GOP debate: Candidates go after Obama - and each other

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Romney, who was looking to protect his leads in national and state polls, smiled and took a pass when given a chance to respond, saying: "That's just fine."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, listens to Michele Bachmann during the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate. (Photo: Associated Press)

In the hours before the debate, Romney created a stir when, at the Iowa State Fair, he declared to Iowans that "corporations are people."

But that statement - at least initially - didn't come up while on stage with his rivals, allowing him to keep his focus on Obama. He said, "Our president simply doesn't understand how to lead and how to grow the economy." He also criticized the incumbent Democrat on the downgrade of the nation's credit rating.

Huntsman - appearing in his first presidential debate - acknowledged he had not yet presented an economic plan, but he cited his economic record as governor of Utah as evidence of what he would accomplish as president. He defended his service as ambassador to China under Obama.

Gingrich, pressed on the implosion of his campaign amid financial strife and infighting earlier this summer, chastised the Fox News panel for "gotcha questions." He said Republicans including Ronald Reagan and John McCain had staff defections during their campaigns, and he said he intended, in his words, to "run on ideas."

Roughly 45 minutes into the debate, Santorum raised his hand and said: "I haven't gotten to say a lot."

Showing the wide diversity of opinion, Paul gave a staunchly libertarian answer to nearly every question from the economy to foreign affairs, essentially saying the United States should have friendly relations even with countries that violate human rights and not interfere in their internal affairs. "It's about time we talk to Cuba," Paul said at one point. He also said the United States had created the hostile relations between it and Iran.

Even before the debate began, it was a campaign day to remember.

At an appearance early in the day, Romney was badgered by hecklers at the state fair. In response to chanting about corporations, he said that "corporations are people," a comment Democrats predicted would be a defining moment of his campaign.

Romney, a wealthy businessman who has struggled with an aloof and elitist image as he tries for the GOP presidential nomination a second time, made the remark while outlining options for reducing the federal deficit and overhauling entitlement programs.

Despite tea party outrage that sometimes focuses on banks and auto companies, Romney has said to applause from GOP audiences that the rights of business are being trampled under Obama to the detriment of the struggling economy. But in Thursday's audience, the line encountered resistance.

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