DES MOINES – It was hard to tell at times during Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate whether the six candidates on stage were members of the same political team.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, two candidates vying for front-runner status in the 2012 GOP presidential race, took shots at each other’s positions on a number of issues, while Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said she is the proven conservative to go up against President Obama next November — “not Newt Romney.”
Meanwhile, Gingrich said character “is a real issue” – in the context of his three marriages. He said he has admitted past mistakes and has found that voters are supportive of his candidacy because he has “a record of real change.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said infidelity should not be “a disqualifier, but it’s a factor and it should be a factor.” He said he has constantly heard from Iowans that trust is an important component when they decide who should lead the nation.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he considered a marriage vow to be a covenant with God, adding: “When I make a vow to God, I would tell you that’s stronger than a handshake in Texas. I think that issue of fidelity is important. If you cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your business partner or why wouldn’t you cheat on anybody for that matter?”
Texas Congressman Ron Paul said character is not something a political candidate should have to talk about, “it should show through.” He said the bigger issue is how seriously elected officials take the oath of office, noting “I end up off voting by myself” in trying to shrink government and keep America from being the world’s “policeman” by engaging in undeclared military actions.
Saturday’s crucial debate was the first face-to-face meeting since Herman Cain suspended his campaign – a development that vaulted Gingrich into the lead and made him the target of attacks from rivals vying for support in a 2012 race that is rapidly approaching the first test of rank-and-file GOP support in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
Romney said he differed with Gingrich on easing capital gain tax burdens, on spending federal money for a lunar colony to mine minerals from the moon and his record as a private-sector job creator versus the former speaker’s record as a career politician.
“I understand how the economy works and I believe that for Americans — to say goodbye to President Obama and elect a Republican — they need to have confidence that the person they’re electing knows how to make this economy work again and create jobs for the American middle class.”
Gingrich said his capital gains cut is a better plan, he defended his support for the U.S. space program and he told Romney “let’s be candid, the only reason you didn’t become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994. You’d be a career politician by now if you would have won.”
Bachmann and Perry took shots at Romney and Gingrich for supporting an individual health care mandate similar to a federal overhaul pushed by Obama. Perry contended Romney went so far as to revise a book he wrote to change his position on the federal mandate – a claim Romney challenged and wanted to back it up with a $10,000 bet.
“I’m not into betting, my friend,” Perry said. “It’s in the book.”
“I have the book,” Romney shot back.