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Romney survives GOP debate without scars

By CHARLES BABINGTON
June 14, 2011

Mitt Romney (left) and Ron Paul at GOP debate (Reuters)

If Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and other Republican presidential hopefuls feel they need to close the gap on front-runner Mitt Romney, they didn’t show it at the New Hampshire debate.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who leads in the early polls and fundraising efforts, had a surprisingly easy two hours Monday night. He looked calm and steady, criticizing President Barack Obama on the economy and health care while rarely being forced on the defensive despite some well-known vulnerabilities of his own.

With New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary half a year away, the seven GOP candidates seemed more eager to introduce themselves to voters in the televised event than to start ripping each other. They rarely differed on major policies. All agreed that Obama has botched the economy and doesn’t deserve a second term.

Near the end of the debate, Romney said anyone on the stage would be a better president than Obama. That was high praise for little-known candidate Herman Cain, libertarian hero Ron Paul and former Sen. Rick Santorum, who badly lost his last re-election bid in Pennsylvania. It also reflected how friendly everyone had been to Romney.

If any candidate had nearly as pleasant an evening as Romney, it was Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. She made maximum use of CNN’s live telecast to announce she was formally entering the race. And she showed a feisty but folksy style, perhaps grabbing an audience that many once thought would go to Sarah Palin, who was not present.

Before the debate, there were signs that Romney might be pressed harder on his record, especially the Massachusetts health care law that requires people to obtain health insurance. On Sunday, Pawlenty had derided the state law as “Obamneycare,” because it served as a model for Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul, which many conservatives detest.

Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, seemed loath to revisit the issue Monday. CNN moderator John King pressed him three times to explain why he had used the term “Obamneycare.” Finally, Pawlenty replied somewhat weakly that it was “a reflection of the president’s comments that he designed Obamacare on the Massachusetts health care plan.”

King had no more luck enticing the other six contenders to comment on Romney’s former support for legalized abortion, gay rights and gun control. He has switched his position on all those issues since his days as a Senate candidate and one-term governor in liberal-leaning Massachusetts.

King asked whether anyone on the stage felt Romney’s authenticity was “an issue in the campaign.” After a pause, Cain said, “Case closed,” and the discussion turned to other topics.

The crowded stage and tight time constraints made it difficult to tease out meaningful differences between the candidates. Bachmann said that as president, she would not interfere with states that recognize same-sex marriages.

Santorum and Romney said they support a constitutional amendment limiting marriage in all the states to one man and one woman. Bachmann jumped back in, saying she supported that too. But she had been asked earlier whether she would try to challenge state laws on a one-by-one basis, a different question.

Gingrich, the former House speaker who suffered a wholesale campaign staff defection last week, appeared rather grim and determined to show his toughness. In the opening greetings, when most candidates said little more than hello, Gingrich vowed “to end the Obama depression.”

That set the tone for an evening focused on the president, leaving Romney and his fellow Republicans unbruised.

“It was a very friendly debate to say the least, which helps Romney,” Republican adviser Greg Mueller said. “No one took center stage and emerged as the main challenger to Romney.”

A stiff challenge to Romney from the right “is there for the taking,” Mueller said, “but did not happen tonight.”

Summer, fall and Christmas will pass before the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary take place. Romney’s rivals have plenty of time to mount their attacks. But on Monday in Manchester, they showed they are not ready yet.

___

Charles Babington covers national politics for The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

6 Responses to Romney survives GOP debate without scars

  1. Sandune

    June 14, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Just a reminder…..Mitt Romney committed his life to promote the Mormon church. At any time he can can switch to any opinion that is handed to him by the Prophet.

    • Jon

      June 16, 2011 at 1:06 am

      Or that he can decode from reading tablets in a hat.

      • Carl Nemo

        June 16, 2011 at 2:36 am

        Jon, you must be referring to the Hebrew ‘decoder ring’ phenomenon known as the “‘Urrim V’Tummim” that ports over into Mormon theology concerning the interpretation of the ‘golden plates/tablets’ revealed to Joseph Smith which supports his writing of the “Book of Mormon” written in this ‘holy’ language of angels…no?

        http://www.inner.org/responsa/leter2/resp60.htm

        Carl Nemo **==

  2. Danny Adams

    June 14, 2011 at 11:44 am

    >>Santorum and Romney said they support a constitutional amendment limiting marriage in all the states to one man and one woman. Bachmann jumped back in, saying she supported that too.<<

    In other words, Republican politicians are anti-Federal intervention and pro-states' rights except when they aren't.

  3. Sandune

    June 14, 2011 at 11:48 am

    The situation with regard to the 2012 election is allowing all of us to make a choice between the usual Democratic mantra of a redistribution of wealth and a threat from the religious right based on prohibitions against gay marriages and abortions.

    How does one locate a decision when two evils are standing up against individual freedoms? Neither side wants to stop the wars in the Middle East and both want to take on Africa.

    How long does one have to wait for a solution that involves getting the government out of our job growth plans and our individual freedoms?

    Do I take my chances with watching the government taking from the rich and giving it to the poor? Or do I allow this same government to direct all citizens in their choices made in their personal lives?

    Neither of these choices is acceptable; but they are all that are offered. Is the concept of Americans being able to direct their own lives without the federal powers, a lost cause? When did we lose our ability to choose?

    We can all work on a plan to revise the tax codes but once we turn our personal lives over to the churches, we are doomed to await another inquisition.

    CHB has always leaned towards God but to allow this into our federal government is a crime against American freedoms.

    • woody188

      June 15, 2011 at 12:22 am

      That is precisely the intent Sandy. They use hot button issues to divide us while being the same on the issues that really matter. This gives the common man an illusion of choice. Some of us refer to this as the false duopoly. It’s why we always vote for change and never get it. This is also why I claim voting will never solve our problems.

      My only suggestion at this point is to hunker down and prepare for the worst. This ship is not changing course. We are going to hit the iceberg. Do you think Congress prepared a lifeboat for you?