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Sunday
Jan082012

GOP Debate: Romney Unruffled as Rivals Attack Each Other

Win McNamee/Getty Images(MANCHESTER, N.H.) -- Mitt Romney was unruffled in the New Hampshire Republican debate Saturday night that saw heated exchanges between Ron Paul and his rivals but relatively little criticism leveled against the frontrunner.

Rick Santorum, who is riding high after his number two finish in the Iowa caucus, was one of the few candidates to go aggressively after the former Massachusetts governor, taking on his economic plan and health care record.

The former senator, who has portrayed Romney as a cold, calculating, chief executive and not an inspirational leader, continued that line of attack Saturday night.

"Business experience doesn't necessarily match up with being the commander-in-chief of this country," Santorum said at the debate in Manchester, N.H., sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo! News and WMUR. "The commander-in-chief of this country isn't a CEO."

Romney responded with a veiled jab at the former senator, saying, "I think people who spend their life in Washington don't understand what happens out in the real economy." 

Watch highlights of the ABC News Republican presidential debate:

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"The people in the private sector," Romney continued, "They're not successful because they're managers. They're successful primarily because they are leaders."

Later in the debate, Santorum attacked Romney's use of the word "middle class," suggesting that it only adds to President Obama's and Democrats' line of argument.

"As far as substance, I agree with Speaker [Newt] Gingrich. I don't think Governor Romney's plan is particularly bold, or is particularly focused on where the problems are in this country," Santorum said.

Saying that "there are no classes in America," Santorum took issue with Romney's use of the word middle class.

"We are a country that don't allow for titles. We don't put people in classes. 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," he said.

"I'll use the language of bringing people together," he added.

Gingrich, who has seen his ranking in the polls slide rapidly, was asked about Romney's record at Bain Capital but largely left criticism in a scathing TV ad by a super PAC aligned with his campaign to speak for itself.

The pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future recently teased a forthcoming film it produced -- called "King of Bain" – that featured interviews with laid off employees, hammering Romney for turning their lives upside down. The video calls Romney's tenure at Bain "a story of greed."

Gingrich said he hasn't seen the ad but that "people should look at the film and decide."

"I'm not nearly as enamored of a Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers," he said, taking a swipe at Romney without saying his name.

Romney defended his record at Bain, including the fact that some of the companies it invested in led to layoffs. "We understand that in the free economy, in the private sector, that sometimes investments don't work and you're not successful," he said. "It always pains you if you have to be in a situation of downsizing a business in order to try and make it more successful, turn it around and try and grow it again."

Romney may be the frontrunner but it was Rep. Ron Paul who was the subject of the testiest exchanges of the night. Paul went aggressively at his rivals, accusing Santorum of corruption and Gingrich of ducking military service.

Paul and Santorum are engaged in a tooth-and-nail battle for the number two position and the two had the feistiest exchanges of the debate.

"To say you're a conservative, I think, is a stretch. But you've convinced a lot of people of it, so somebody has to point out your record," Paul charged, citing a report by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in 2006 that named Santorum one of three "most corrupt" senators.

Paul's charge comes at a time when Santorum is trying to make the case that he is the one true, viable conservative alternative to Romney.

Santorum bashed CREW as a liberal organization and defended his conservative record.

"If you haven't been sued by CREW, you are not a conservative," he responded. "It's a ridiculous charge and you should know better than to cite George Soros-like organizations."

He painted Paul as being far out of the mainstream of the Republican Party: "You vote against everything."

Soon after, Gingrich and Paul clashed in a heated exchange on the question of military service.

"I think people who don't serve when they could and get three or four or even five deferments have no right to send our kids off to war and be even against the wars we have. I'm trying to stop the wars but at least I went when they called me up," he said. 

But Gingrich, who received a draft deferment during the Vietnam War on the basis that he had children and was studying, pushed back heavily at Paul's not-so-veiled jab.

"Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is I never asked for a deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question," he countered. "I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people."

"When I was drafted I was married with two kids and I went," Paul responded, to applause.

"I wasn't eligible for the draft. I wasn't eligible for the draft," Gingrich repeated.

On the issue of foreign policy and how they would handle Iraq and Afghanistan, the candidates deviated little from their talking points, except Rick Perry, who said for the first time that he would send troops back to Iraq. Perry was the only other candidate on stage, besides Paul, to serve in the armed forces.

"I would send troops back into Iraq," he said. "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 kowtow to his liberal leftist base and move out those men and women. ... I think it is a huge error for us." 

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The Texas governor has long criticized Obama for announcing a date for the troop withdrawal but has previously only said that he would consult with commanders on the ground before making troop decisions.

On Iraq, Perry stood out from the rest of the candidates, namely Paul who advocates bringing all troops back home, even from Afghanistan.

They may have stood apart on economic issues, but the candidates were united in opposition when asked about gay marriage, which is legal in New Hampshire and Iowa.

"There's every right for people in this country to form long-term relationships with each other, that doesn't mean they need to call it marriage," said Romney.

"It's a huge jump from being understanding, considerate, concerned [for same-sex couples], which we should be," Gingrich said, "to saying we're therefore going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis. The sacrament of marriage is based on a man and a woman, has been for 3,000 years, is at the core of our civilization and is worth protecting and upholding."

"I think protecting and upholding that doesn't mean you need to make life miserable for others," he added.

"I believe the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue," said Santorum, a longtime critic of same-sex marriage. "Marriage is... a foundational institution in our country and we have to have a singular law with respect to that."

Then Gingrich trained fire on the news media for not adequately reporting on recent decisions by Catholic Charities groups to cease adoption services in several states which would have required them to work with same-sex couples.

"You don't hear the opposite question asked: should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won't accept gay couples?"

"The bigotry question goes both ways. And there's a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is on the other side and none of it gets covered by the media," he said, drawing loud applause.

"People in this room think Speaker Gingrich is right, and I do too," interjected Romney.

During the debate several of the candidates, including Romney and Gingrich, urged party unity, saying they'd support anyone on the stage if he were to become the GOP nominee to challenge Obama. But not Paul, who some speculate could mount a third party run.

When asked about the possibility of making an independent general election bid, Paul insisted he has "no plans to do it" but would not definitively rule it out.

"I don't intend to do it. And somebody pushed me a little bit hard and said why don't you plan to do it? I just -- I don't want to. So I have no intention," he said. "But I don't know why a person can't reserve a judgment and see how things turn out? You know, in many ways I see the other candidates as very honorable people, but I sometimes disagree with their approach to government."

Jon Huntsman, who has focused the bulk of his campaign efforts in New Hampshire, struggled to maintain his ground and came under a late, last-minute surprising attack by the frontrunner himself.

Romney attacked Huntsman's work as ambassador to China under the Obama administration, saying that as president, he wouldn't talk about China.

"I'm going to tell the Chinese, it's time to stop. I'm not going to let you kill American jobs," he said.

Huntsman responded in Chinese, saying, "he doesn't understand the situation."

Romney is well ahead of his rivals in the Granite state, garnering 44 percent of the vote among GOP voters in a WMUR poll released Friday. In South Carolina -- the state next in line for the primary -- the former Massachusetts governor is leading the pack with almost 40 percent of the vote, while the only southerner in the contest, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has fallen to 5 percent.

Romney is leading well ahead of his rivals in all major national polls, but Santorum is also rising quickly, mostly at the expense of Gingrich. In Gallup's latest tracking poll conducted on Jan. 1-6, 29 percent of GOP voters chose Romney, 17 percent picked Gingrich and 16 percent said they would vote for Santorum. This is one of Romney's largest leads since the poll began.

Watch analysis of the ABC News Republican presidential debate:

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jan072012

Live Blog: ABC News Republican Debate in New Hampshire

Win McNamee/Getty Images(MANCHESTER, N.H.) -- The six remaining Republican presidential candidates square off tonight at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., just days ahead of Tuesday's all-important New Hampshire primary.

The debate is being sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo! News and WMUR. Watch below as the political teams of ABC News and Yahoo analyze the debate live, beginning at 8:45 p.m. Eastern time.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Dec102011

Republican Candidates Clash in Pivotal Iowa Debate

ABC News(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, six Republican presidential candidates faced off Saturday night in a high-stakes presidential debate dominated by the question of who's the most consistent conservative.

The debate, sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo! News, WOI-TV, The Des Moines Register and the Iowa Republican Party at Drake University in Des Moines, comes 24 days before the first GOP voters will reveal their preference for presidential nominee on Jan. 3.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wasted little time going after frontrunner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accusing him of being a "career politician" with unusual -- at times liberal -- ideas.

"Speaker Gingrich and I have a lot of places where we disagree," Romney said. "We can start with his idea...to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon...He said that he would like to eliminate in some cases the child labor laws so that kids could clean schools... His plan in capital gains, to remove capital gains for people at the very highest level of income ..."

"But our real difference, I believe, is our backgrounds -- I spent my life in the private sector," Romney said, before turning to blast Gingrich as a Washington insider.

"The only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994," Gingrich replied, going on to offer a robust defense of his agenda.

But Romney didn't back down.

"If I had been able to get in the NFL as a kid, I would have been a football star too. But I spent my life in the private sector. We don't need folks who are lifetime Washington people to get this country out of the mess it's in -- we need people outside Washington, outside K street," he said, jabbing at Gingrich's experience.

Paul also took a jab at Gingrich.

"He's been on so many positions on so many issues," he said, noting Gingrich's support for a single-payer health care system, TARP funds and even accepting money from Freddie Mac, a government agency. "You might have a little bit of trouble competing with me on consistency."

Michele Bachmann also piled on Gingrich, attempting to paint him as a Washington insider by asserting that his office was located on "the Rodeo Drive of Washington D.C., K Street" -- a street lined lobbyists' offices.

Then she created a stir by introducing a new tag line for her rivals, lumping them all together as "Newt Romney" for their support of an individual health care mandate, cap and trade and illegal immigration.

Gingrich immediately countered by saying Bachmann's comments were "simply untrue."

"I fought against 'Obamacare' every step of the way. I think it's important for you -- and this is a fair game. It's important for to you be accurate when you say those things. I did no lobbying," Gingrich told Bachmann.

But, the congresswoman wasn't having it, coming back with another attack.

"This is such an important issue. We have one shot. Do we honestly believe two men who stood on this stage and defended 'Romneycare' and an individual mandate? Are they honestly going to get rid of it in 2012?" Bachmann said. "It's going to be a very heavy lift."

The debate -- the 12th for the Republican candidates this year -- comes at a crucial moment, as Gingrich continues a dramatic surge in the polls and ousted frontrunner Romney and his allies launch scathing attacks from all sides.

Gingrich leads the pack with 33 percent support among likely caucus goers in Iowa, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Romney and Paul are trailing in Iowa at 18 percent each.

The former House speaker also holds impressive leads in two other key early states -- South Carolina and Florida -- with 23 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, according to the most recent CNN-Time magazine polls.

He is also positioned well in hypothetical 2012 match-ups with President Obama in swing states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, new Quinnipiac University polls found.

Turning to the issue of the candidates' individual character, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has been running ads in Iowa touting his family values and long-time marriage, took a veiled jab at Gingrich, who has been married three times and has admitted marital infidelity.

"If you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner, so I think that issue of fidelity is important," Perry said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said he believes "character" is important, before Gingrich was given the opportunity to respond, saying voters need to "have a feeling that this is a person that they can trust with the level of power we give to the presidency."

"I think people have to render judgment -- I've said in my case, I've made mistakes at times -- I'm also a 68-year-old grandfather and I think people have to measure what I do now," Gingrich said.

Halfway through the debate, the spat between Romney and Gingrich flared over the issue of Israel and personal friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gingrich defended the controversial comments he made Friday, when he said the Palestinian people were "invented." He said Saturday night that his statements were "factually correct."

"Is it historically correct? Yes. Are we in a situation where every day rockets are fired into Israel while the United States -- the current administration, tries to pressure the Israelis into a peace process. Hamas does not admit the right of Israel to exist and says publicly not a single Jew will remain," Gingrich said.

"It's fundamentally time for somebody to stand up and say enough lying about the Middle East," he said.

Romney said Gingrich's comments were reckless, and that he was speaking for Israel.

"We stand with the Israeli people. We are going to tell the truth, but we are not going to send incendiary words into a boiling pot when our friends the Israelis would say, 'What are you doing?'" Romney said.

Gingrich, looking at Romney in disbelief, retorted that he "did not speak for the people of Israel, I spoke as a historian," adding he has known Bibi Netanyahu since 1984, calling the Israeli prime minister by his nickname.

Romney countered, "I've also known Bibi for a long time," adding that they worked together at Boston Consulting Group.

"I will exercise sobriety," Romney said. "I wouldn't do anything that would alter this process. Before I do that, I get on the phone with my friend Bibi Netanyahu."

When Perry was given the chance to speak, he called the uproar over Gingrich's remarks a "minor" issue blown up by the media, channeling Gingrich's attacks on the media from other debates.

"This president is the problem, not something that Newt Gingrich said," he said.

Later, the candidates were asked about their childhood struggles and experiences through which they can identify with economically struggling Americans.

Romney admitted he "didn't grow up poor," but said his parents -- his father was the governor of Michigan, George Romney -- instilled a strong work ethic in their children because he "grew up with a dad that's poor."

Bachmann told a story she's told before, recounting her parent's divorce, which she called a "tragedy" that so many families in the country go through.

"My mom was a fulltime homemaker with four kids and we went below the poverty line overnight," mentioning that she had to start working at a young age.

"I know what it's like for single moms to struggle," Bachmann said. "We are still coupon-clippers today. ... We get what that feels like."

The very last question thrown at the candidates was what they have learned from one of their onstage rivals.

Rick Santorum said it was Newt Gingrich. As a 30 year old running for Congress—he won his first race at 32—he said he listened to Gingrich's audio tapes which helped him win that first race.

Rick Perry said it was fellow Texan, Ron Paul, who got him first "intrigued in the federal reserve."

"Congressman Paul is the individual on the stage that got me the most interested in a topic that I found most interesting," Perry said. "And I thank you for that," before adding that he also learned from the "people of this country."

Romney chose not to mention another candidate he learned from, but said he admired the movement that Paul has inspired mentioning when he goes to a debate the only signs he sees even in the freezing cold are Ron Paul signs.

"That enthusiasm in people that's exciting to watch," Romney said.

Gingrich said the governor of Iowa who was sitting in the second row was his role model, although not an opponent.

"Get out of politics for awhile..too old too experienced, to tied to the past, win the governorship decisively." As for a rival onstage he had learned from: Rick Santorum because he had the "courage to tell the truth about the Iranians for a long time."

Bachmann mentioned Herman Cain, who left the race last week.

"You can't have a debate without mentioning 999 in a debate," Bachmann said adding that it's the "power of being plain spoken."

"I'm going to go with win, win, win instead of 999," Bachmann said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Dec102011

GOP Debate: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich Take First Jabs

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, six Republican presidential candidates faced off Saturday night in a high-stakes presidential debate dominated by the question of who's the most consistent conservative.

The debate, sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo! News, WOI-TV, The Des Moines Register and the Iowa Republican Party at Drake University in Des Moines, comes less than a month before the Iowa Caucus, the first official test of primary preference in the country, scheduled for Jan. 3.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wasted little time going after frontrunner Newt Gingrich, accusing him of being a "career politician" with unusual -- at times liberal -- ideas.

"Speaker Gingrich and I have a lot of places where we disagree," Romney said. "We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony to mine minerals from the moon ... child labor laws so kids could clean schools ... remove capital gains for the wealthiest Americas...

"But our real difference is in our backgrounds," Romney said, turning to blast Gingrich as a Washington insider.

"The only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994," Gingrich replied, going on to offer a robust defense of his agenda.

But Romney didn't back down.

"If I had been able to get in the NFL as a kid, I would have been a football star too. But I spent my life in the private sector. We don't need folks who are lifetime Washington people to get this country out of the mess it's in -- we need people outside Washington, outside K street," he said, jabbing at Gingrich's experience.

Paul also took a jab at Gingrich.

"He's been on so many positions on so many issues," he said, noting Gingrich's support for a single-payer health care system, TARP funds and even accepting money from Freddie Mac, a government agency. "You might have a little bit of trouble competing with me on consistency."

The debate -- the 12th for the Republican candidates this year -- comes at a crucial moment, as Gingrich continues a dramatic surge in the polls and ousted frontrunner Romney and his allies launch scathing attacks from all sides.

Gingrich leads the pack with 33 percent support among likely caucus goers in Iowa, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Romney and Paul are trailing in Iowa at 18 percent each.

The former House speaker also holds impressive leads in two other key early states -- South Carolina and Florida -- with 23 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, according to the most recent CNN-Time magazine polls.

He is also positioned well in hypothetical 2012 match-ups with President Obama in swing states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, new Quinnipiac University polls found.

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Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct032011

Exclusive: Obama Calls Himself 'Underdog' in 2012 Race

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Calling himself an "underdog," President Obama said Monday that the faltering economy is a drag on his presidency and seriously impairing his chances at winning again in 2012.

"Absolutely," he said to a question by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos about whether the odds were against him come November 2012, given the economy. "I'm used to being the underdog. But at the end of the day people are going to ask -- who's got a vision?”

The American people, he conceded, are "not better off" than they were four years ago.

Obama said his American Jobs Act will put construction workers, teachers and veterans to work and give "more consumers more confidence." Critics point out that Obama said the same thing about the massive economic stimulus package, too -- and unemployment actually rose after his Recovery Act was passed.

Foreign affairs, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and social issues like gay marriage will all be fodder on the campaign trail, but with the first caucus and primaries less than 100 days away, no issue looms as large for 2012 than the economy and jobs. The latest unemployment figures for the month of September will be released Friday, but the jobless rate is not expected to significantly improve.

Obama's job approval rate is hovering at around 40 percent, and a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found him losing to any Republican candidate 37 percent to 55 percent.

The questions featured in Monday's online interview, the first under a new alliance between ABC News and Yahoo! News, were generated by Internet users. More than 40,000 questions, including one from Republican presidential contender former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, were submitted online.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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