Seven of the announced candidates for the Republican presidential nomination met in battle at New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm College on Monday.
From the beginning, answering a challenge from the debate moderator, CNN’s John King, they all agreed that they had entered the contest because they were concerned about the effects of what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in his opening comment called “The Obama Depression.”
There were no fireworks, despite King’s repeated effort to light them.
The candidates all agreed on most of the big issues, choosing instead to direct their fire at the man they hope to beat in November 2012, Barack Hussein Obama.
Obama, said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, “didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse. He made it longer.”
Indeed, with on-the-books unemployment at 9.1 percent — likely higher in reality — Obama has, to use Romney’s word, “failed.”
Gingrich was far stronger, saying that “for those 14 million Americans who don’t have jobs, this is a depression — now.”
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, when asked if Obama had done “anything right” in terms of the way he has handled the U.S. economy, said, “I can’t think of anything.”
Nonetheless there were no knockout blows. All the candidates seemed to agree, as Romney put it late in the debate, that each of the candidates on the stage would be a better president going forward than Obama has been over the last three years.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who announced during the debate that she had pulled the papers needed to allow her to run for president, took on Obama straight on his signature issue.
“I want to make a promise to everyone watching tonight,” Bachmann said, “I will not rest until I repeal ObamaCare,” citing a Congressional Budget Office analysis that said the reform of the nation’s healthcare financing system would kill 800 thousand U.S. jobs.
Romney, who seemed to get the lion’s share of the time from CNN’s King, made a similar promise.
“If I’m elected president I will repeal ObamaCare,” Romney promised, adding that on his first day in office he would issue waivers to allow all 50 states to opt out of ObamaCare. “States are the right place” for these kinds of issues to be handled, he said.
The questions, which came from a combination of CNN employees, state political reporters and New Hampshire voters, covered a range of issues from jobs, manufacturing, immigration, gay rights, and, finally, foreign policy.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty addressed the issue of trade and the creation of jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector by arguing, “We’ve got to have fair trade. That’s not what’s going on right now.”
“We need to make the costs and burdens of manufacturing lower,” said Pawlenty, who introduced a pro-growth tax plan last week. “Taxes are too high. The regulations are too heavy. The permitting is too slow,” he said, echoing a basic tenet of the Reagan Republican Party.
Paul, who has a strong following among libertarians, talked about how government policy has chased jobs and capital out of the United States. “We should invite capital back,” he said. He called for allowing corporations to bring profits they have parked overseas to avoid double taxation, and railed against “the Fed continuing to print money.”