Wednesday night, eight Republican presidential candidates met in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. for a debate sponsored by Politico and NBC News. The debate was in some ways a coming out party for Texas Gov. Rick Perry—it was his first debate since entering the race for the GOP presidential nomination. Expectations were low, yet he rose to the occasion, making direct comparisons between himself and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who until Perry's entrance was the clear front-runner. Romney and Perry clashed on job creation, healthcare, and Social Security. Meanwhile, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, who trails in the polls, tried to engage the dueling front-runners by asserting that his record as governor of Utah trumps both the records of Romney and Perry. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]
Immigration, global warming, and Social Security presented opportunities for the candidates to distinguish themselves. Rep. Michele Bachmann asserted that she best knew how to get Congress to repeal Obamacare, while Rep. Ron Paul took the most libertarian stance, calling for the disbanding of the FAA and FEMA. Herman Cain touted his 9-9-9 tax reform plan and former Sen. Rick Santorum defended his Catholic beliefs as they related to poverty. While the pointed attacks between Republicans intensified with this debate, the generalized lobs against President Obama were not in short supply. Said former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, "this is a president so committed to class warfare and so committed to bureaucratic socialism that he can't possibly be effective in jobs." The debate revealed the many differences between each of the candidates' views, but it also tested who could most effectively compete with President Obama in the general election. Only a candidate who could stand up to seven Republican competitors could hope to face down Obama in 2012.
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