On the campus of Iowa State University just two days before the famous Iowa Straw Poll, a debate was televised with the GOP contenders for the Presidential nomination. To say the crowd was enthusiastic would be an understatement.
Fox News Channel, along with the Washington Examiner and the Iowa Republican Party, sponsored the debate. "Special Report" host Bret Baier was the debate moderator.
Participating were: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman. Eight people on the stage vying for the camera and sound bite of the evening.
It was said to be a deal maker or breaker for some going into the event. I took copious notes. I am not sure it lived up to the hype. The gloves came off, as was to be expected at this stage of the game, and some zingers were lobbed but I don't think much changed.
Mitt Romney remains the top dog. He looks and sounds presidential. Answering a question about the label of "Mittness Protection Plan" - he appeared to be missing in action during the debt ceiling debate until the last day or two, only to say he would vote against it - he said he signed a pledge back in June that he would not support raising the debt ceiling unless Cut, Cap and Balance was the deal. "I won't eat Barack Obama's dog food. I won't eat what he serves up." When questioned on companies acquired by Bain Capital under his leadership watching jobs go overseas, he claimed of the 100 businesses invested in, tens of thousands jobs were created. As Governor of Massachusetts the unemployment rate was below the federal level three out of four years. Romney supports hiring skilled foreign labor. He said the USA should welcome the best and brightest, not illegal immigrants without skills. He supports cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and securing the borders. He boasted of cutting taxes 19 times as governor and Massachusetts received an S&P upgrade during his term in office. He cut spending every year, balanced the budget and left office with a $2 billion rainy day fund.
On "Obamneycare" remark of Pawlenty, who then backed away from it during the last debate, Romney said, "I liked Tim's answer in the last debate better". "We put a plan together that was right for Massachusetts". He supports repealing Obamacare and giving waivers to states. He supports individual jobless savings accounts instead of unemployment insurance. He wants reform instead of continual extensions of unemployment insurance and he would not extend it again now.
He said the Afghans have to earn freedom themselves. Time for them to take responsibility according to the generals in the field.
It was obvious that the others were just trying to hold their own, especially against Romney. Michele Bachmann
was strong and her determination not to let others characterize her positions was clear. She had a back and forth with Pawlenty - when the two were challenged over the common slogan "Minnesota nice" though they have been bickering on the campaign trail - and she may have come out a bit stronger than Pawlenty. I learned that Bachmann also didn't vote for Cut, Cap and Balance when questioned about not voting to raise the debt ceiling. She wears that vote like a badge of honor.
Rick Santorum whined about not receiving enough spotlight, maybe rightly so. But, so far down in the polls, it was reasonable to concentrate on the frontrunners. Santorum said the votes of no to raise the debt ceiling made by Bachmann and Ron Paul were "showmanship, not leadership." He criticized the Tea Party for their goal of bring the gold standard back as currency. He reinterated that doctors performing abortions should be tried for murder. He believes gay marriage is not a states issue, using the example of polygamy and its slippery slope. He said we can't have 50 laws on marriage.
Tim Pawlenty had the funniest line - he told the audience if anyone could find Barack Obama's plan on the economy then he would come to that person's home and cook dinner for them. Or mow their lawn. Except in the case of Mitt Romney, it would only be one acre. Everyone appreciated a bit of humor. He boasted of the CATO Institute naming him one of the top four governors while in that office.
did his usual riffs about abolishing the Federal Reserve and getting out of the foreign wars. And never entering foreign wars. He doesn't support the e-Verify program, as he thinks it turns businessmen into policemen. He says no to amnesty for illegal immigrants and no to them voting. He wants the borders secured with military brought home from overseas. When asked about fellow Texan Rick Perry entering the race, he said Perry would represent the status quo. And, he is a no vote for sanctions on Iran as they are a "pre-cursor to war".
Herman Cain continues to stress the need for a businessman in the White House. "How can you create jobs if you have never held one?" was a zinger towards President Obama. He believes energy independence will solve a lot of problems like Iran. "There is more to foreign policy than bombs and bullets". To Governor Perry, he would say, "Welcome to the contest". He continues to be dogged by indelicate remarks about Muslims and apologized for misunderstandings. He wants it known he is firmly against Sharia law, though.
Newt Gingrich is still the smartest guy in the room but has little chance of advancing much farther. He boasts of experience and of working during the Reagan years with divided government. He spoke of forcing Clinton to sign welfare reform legislation when he was Speaker of the House. On a question about his campaign staff problems, he pointed to problems McCain and Reagan had with staff. "I intend to run on ideas". He wants Congress to be called back and begin work Monday on the economic problems. If Democrats don't want to come back, he said Republicans in the House should do it themselves.
Gingrich had a bit of a dust-up with Baier for asking "gotcha" questions when he read quotes to Gingrich made previously and asked for a response. He called it "Mickey Mouse games" and Baier said it was what people want to know. He supports "citizen boards" to determine within communities who goes and who stays when found to be illegally here. He supports pledges of loyalty for anyone working within the government. On Governor Perry's record - "Governor Perry has a great record of job creation in Texas." He said the Federal Reserve needs an audit and Bernacke should stop dealing in secrecy.
Jon Huntsman was a wash. He didn't really help himself but he didn't have any fatal answers, either, if you know his record. On Perry getting into the race, he said, "We all need prayers. I hope he offers a lot to us here on stage." Witty. He is proud of his government service. He said when your President calls and your country needs you, you accept the job - in reference to his ambassadorship to China for Obama. He implimented the Flat Tax in Utah. On cap and trade, he doesn't support it now, though he debated the issue while Governor of Utah. Borders must be secured before anything thing else done on illegal immigration. He supports bringing together a "Council of Business Leaders" to determine exactly what is wrong in the economy as he did in Utah. Utah had a AAA bond rating under his leadership. He supports civil unions, though he believes in traditional marriage. He believes it is an equality issue.
All of the candidates raised their hands in affirmation that they would not consider new taxes regardless of how strong a spending cuts deal ratio to new revenues was.
In recap, the gloves came off. Newt took on the media for gotcha questions. His challenge is to get voters to like him and not just his ideas. The back and forth bickering between Pawlenty and Bachmann probably wounded Pawlenty more than Bachmann. Bachmann held her own ground by proclaiming her principles in politics. Romney is still the guy in front of the pack and looks most presidential. The other candidates treaded water.