Romney, Santorum spar in opening of GOP debate

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, left, and Rick Santorum debate in Manchester on Saturday, a few days before the New Hampshire primary.

Getty Images

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, left, and Rick Santorum debate in Manchester on Saturday, a few days before the New Hampshire primary.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney brushed aside rivals' criticism Saturday night in the opening round of a weekend debate doubleheader that left his Republican presidential campaign challengers squabbling among themselves and unable to knock the front-runner off stride.

Three days before the first in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, Romney largely ignored his fellow Republicans and turned instead on President Barack Obama. "His policies have made the recession deeper and his policies have made the recovery more tepid," despite a declining jobless rate.

Over the course of the lively 90-minute debate, there were attacks aplenty as Romney's five rivals vied to emerge as his principal rival in the primaries ahead. The former Massachusetts governor won an eight-vote victory in the Iowa caucuses last Tuesday and is far ahead in the pre-primary polls in New Hampshire.

That leaves his pursuers little time to stop his rise, and, all but conceding New Hampshire to the former governor of next-door Massachusetts, they're focusing their efforts on the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21

Romney, who often touts his business background, was attacked in the opening moments of the debate. Santorum went first, dismissing him as a mere manager. Gingrich followed a few moments later, referring to published accounts that described how some workers were laid off after Bain Capital, the firm Romney once led, invested in their companies and sought to turn them around.

Unruffled, the former Massachusetts governor retorted that Bain had created 100,000 jobs on balance, and that a businessman's experience was far better to fix the economy that a lifetime spent in Washington, D.C. "I'm very proud of the fact that the two enterprises I led were successful," he said, referring to Bain and another firm.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul assailed Rick Santorum as a "big government person," an allegation the former Pennsylvania senator disputed. Santorum finished a close second to Romney in Iowa this week, with Paul coming in third.

Paul, who has called former House Speaker Newt Gingrich a "chicken hawk" who has not served in the military, drew withering criticism in return. "I personally resent the kinds of comments and aspersions he routinely makes," Gingrich said.

Paul got the last word, saying emphatically, "When I was drafted I was married and had two kids, and I went." He was an Air Force surgeon in the Vietnam War era.

Romney, Santorum spar in opening of GOP debate 01/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 7, 2012 11:18pm]

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...