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The Republican presidential candidates debated on Saturday night and Sunday morning in a last bid to influence the outcome of Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire. Romney emerged unscathed from the first event, but suffered a double-teaming from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the second as the two sought to chip at his double-digit lead in the state.
Suffolk University has Romney with 35% of the vote in New Hampshire, followed by Ron Paul (20%), Jon Huntsman (11%), Newt Gingrich (9%), Rick Santorum (8%) and Rick Perry with less than one percent. American Research Group likewise finds Romney with a huge lead at 40%, but differs on the rest. ARG has Huntsman in second (17%) followed by Paul (16%), Santorum (12%), Gingrich (8%) and Perry (1%). Romney is expected to win comfortably, but it is hard to predict how everyone else will perform. That made these two debates especially important for those vying to be the alternative to Romney.
Rick Santorum is now a top-tier candidate and performed like one, speaking powerfully and with an impressive amount of detail and facts. Arguably his best moment was when a moderator on Sunday asked him how he’d react if he had a son who told him that he was gay. Santorum replied, “I’d love him just as much as the second before he told me.”
On national security, Santorum reiterated that the Iranian regime’s ideology makes it different than the Soviet Union and that the U.S. should have long been supporting the Iranian people seeking to overthrow it. He said that the Iranian people “love America” because of how it stands up for freedom. He decried the Obama administration’s refusal to identify the enemy, specifically how it rid policy documents of the term, “radical Islam.”
Santorum went on the offensive against Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. He said that the former had never passed any legislation and that his domestic agenda would never get through Congress, but he could implement his less popular foreign policy agenda. “All that Republicans like about him, he can’t accomplish and all the things that worry them, he will do on day one,” he said.
Santorum contrasted himself with Romney by saying that he ran on his principles in a 71% Democratic district and won, whereas Romney “ran to the left of Kennedy” and lost. He reacted to Romney’s boasting of his record as governor by asking him why he “bailed out” and didn’t run for re-election if he did so well. Santorum was hinting at Romney’s low approval rating in Massachusetts.
Newt Gingrich, as usual, spoke eloquently and with detail. He accused the media of having a double-standard by reporting on alleged Christian bigotry but not on anti-Christian bigotry, winning a huge applause. On national security, he warned that there would be an “industrial depression across the world in 48 hours” if Iran shuts down the Strait of Hormuz. He listed the various problems facing the U.S. in the Middle East, specifically the “decaying” of Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood electoral victories in Egypt and the uncertainty over who will lead Libya.
Gingrich called for a “fundamentally new strategy” based on the Cold War model to change the Middle East that would use soft power more than military force. He said that the solution for Afghanistan is found in Pakistan and Iran and that Iraq “will be fine” if the Iranian regime is overthrown. Gingrich said that a massive energy independence program is needed to stop the Saudi exporting of Wahhabism and that two-thirds of the money saved would go to paying off the deficit and one-third would be invested in infrastructure if he becomes president.
Gingrich clashed bitterly with Paul and Romney. On Saturday, Paul said that he still considers Gingrich to be a “chickenhawk” that avoided serving in Vietnam but is willing to send young men and women to die in wars. Gingrich replied that Paul has a “long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false” and that he was ineligible for the draft.
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