Republican presidential contenders kept their fire aimed squarely at President Obama at the first major debate of their primary season in Manchester, N.H., on Monday night, staying respectful of each other and keeping the focus on Democrats, the economy and repealing the new national health care reform law.
There were a few signs of discord on the stage, particularly on the U.S. role in Afghanistan. At one point, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that Muslims today should be treated like Nazis and Communists where it comes to serving the federal government.
But the Republican slate of candidates, meeting for the first time, seemed to agree with the frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney when he said, "Anyone on the stage would be a better president than President Obama."
Romney took no direct hits from the rest of the pack during the wide-ranging two-hour debate, which should help him maintain his front-runner status.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, who entered the debate even though she was not yet formally running, announced that she filed paperwork with the FEC earlier in the day and is now officially a candidate.
"As president of the United States, I will not rest until I repeal Obamacare. It's a promise. Take it to the bank, cash the check. I'll make sure that that happens," she said to applause.
Gingrich, who is seeking to recast his candidacy after his staff quit last week, referred several times to "the Obama depression," which he said has beset the U.S. economy.
At one point the CNN moderator tried to get Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to engage Romney on health reform, and criticize him for signing into law in Massachusetts the health reform program that inspired the national plan Democrats passed in 2010. But Pawlenty passed, declining even to repeat the term 'ObamneyCare' that he had used on "Fox News Sunday."
That allowed Romney to deliver one of his favorite lines about the national health reform law -- that he wished President Obama had called him for advice.
After the debate, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum criticized Pawlenty, arguing he should either take back the term or apologize to Romney.
Each of the seven candidates on the stage pledged to work to repeal the Democrats' health law, which they said is too cumbersome for business.
Romney repeated talking points from a speech he gave on the issue this spring, arguing that health care should be focused at the state level.
He poo-pooed the old political saw used on both sides of the political aisle that a president should listen to his generals about military matters.
"I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the commander-in-chief," he said. "I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I'd bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn't start a war in Libya. I'd quit bombing Yemen. And I'd quit bombing Pakistan. "