Testy exchanges mark Iowa debate
Eight Republicans squared off in Ames, Iowa last night for a lively debate that featured several testy exchanges between some of the candidates.
The two Minnesotans in the race - Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty - had some particularly tense moments. ABC News:
Pawlenty did not back off the frequent criticism of Bachmann he deploys in his campaign stump speeches, saying that she does not have enough executive experience to be president and no record of accomplishment in Congress.
For her part, Bachmann said that Pawlenty's record as governor of Minnesota "sounds a lot more like Barack Obama, if you ask me."
At one point, she turned toward Pawlenty, accusing him on implementing a cap-and-trade energy policy, a government-mandated health insurance plan and of falling short of his promise to shrink the size of government. Pawlenty shook his head as she spoke.
"I'm really surprised that Congresswoman Bachmann would say those things," he fired back. "She has a record of misstating and making false statements."
Turning Bachmann's frequently-used line -- that she has a "titanium spine" -- against her, Pawlenty said, "It's not her spine we're worried about. It's her record of results."
Pawlenty came off as too harsh while Bachmann seemed a bit taken aback by the directness of Pawlenty's assault. Both candidates righted themselves almost immediately though, and performed well for the rest of the debate.
Pawlenty's campaign hangs by a thread at the moment, as big money sources appear to be avoiding his campaign and he has invested heavily in doing well in the straw poll on Saturday. He knows he has to separate himself from Bachmann, which accounts for the harshness of his attack.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum also had some criticism for Bachmann, taking her to task for not coming to Iowa to campaign against three judges who voted for gay marriage. And everyone piled on Ron Paul for his ludicrous position on Iran. Paul thinks that if Iran wants a nuclear weapon, they should be able to develop it without any interference from us. Thus speaks the radical isolationist sage from Texas.
As is usually the case in these theatrical productions, there were no clear winners. Romney didn't lose, which is all he had to do. He is not on the straw poll ballot on Saturday and he seemed content to lurk in the background while the second tier candidates tore at each other.
Perhaps the candidate who did himself the most good was Newt Gingrich. His moribund campaign has nowhere to go but up, and Gingrich distinguished himself with the sharpness of his barbs directed toward Obama, and his eloquence in speaking about the issues.
If we have to pick a loser, let's go with Jon Huntsman. At times, the former Utah governor looked a little lost. He was repetitive in his answers, offered a tepid defense of his immigration and marriage positions, and was singularlly unimpressive. He might not make it to Februrary and New Hampshire.
Hanging over the stage was the specter of Texas Governor Rick Perry who is set to announce on Saturday in South Carolina. Whoever advised him to try and compete for media attention with the Ames straw poll evidently doesn't know much about Iowa. Perry's decision to announce on Saturday may have cost him any chance he had in the Iowa Caucuses. Iowans are good and mad at the Texas governor for trying to upstage them. Iowa Republicans are very sensitive about their status as kingmakers, and the attention paid to the Ames straw poll is important to them. We'll see how that plays out over the next few months.
All in all, a pretty good night for the GOP. They showcased their candidates who all came off, to one degree or another, as presidential. Given the expectations, that's probably the best they could have hoped for.