Republican Presidential Candidates Gather for First GOP 2012 Debate: Live Blog

By Nitya

Jun 13, 2011 9:20pm

9:52 – Was Sarah Palin a good pick as vice president? – Pawlenty gets the question and he was thought before the pick to be the frontrunner. He says Palin is "remarkable" and just as qualified as Joe Biden. Maybe more qualified.

Romney says anyone on the stage would be a better President than president obama.

Who would the current candidates pick as Vice President?

Bachmann says they'd have to have an American Idol contest to decide.

Paul jokes – and notes the lack of a Fed question – that they didn't discuss his signature issue yet so he doesn't know.

And that's about it.

9:44 – Afghanistan and Libya -Is it time to bring the combat troops home from Afghanistan?

Romney seems to be making news when he says "its time to bring our troops home"… but then he adds as soon as we possibly can. And he adds that it has to be based on the conditions on the ground.

Paul – If he was president he says he'd be the commander in chief. he'd tell the military what to do. and he'd tell them to bring the troops home and stop bombing countries because we could use those hundreds of billions to take care of the people at home.

Paul, by the way, is the only current candidate for president with any military experience. He was a doctor in the Air Force.

Bachmann – Says the U.S. should not be involved in Libya for two reasons. 1. There's no U.S. interest there. 2. He's leading from behind, she says, and the U.S. should not lead from behind.

Gingrich – 10 years after 9/11 our intelligence is so bad we have no idea what percentage of Libyans are al Qaeda. Says he'd get out of entanglements as soon as possible and create a totally new strategy for the region.

9:32 – Immigration – Cain says he opposes birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.

Pawlenty talks about sending National Guard troops to the New Mexico border for Operation Jump Start.

Gingrich says if you sent the entire National Guard to the border you'd have morethan enough people to secure it.

That would be quite the mobilization.

9:23 – Abortion - King gives the candidates a chance to question Romney's commitment to opposing abortion rights. Noone does.

Bachmann refers to the beauty of life and God in explaining her support of "life, from conception to death."

Santorum calls himself the "most pro life" candidate. A high bar on this stage.Pawlenty too says he's the most pro-life, but he's backed it up as governor, not just talked about it.

9:20 – Gay Marriage

The Republican party is generally about states rights. But everyone save Cain on the stage is supportive, to varying degrees, of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Cain – Says he wouldn't have overturned 'Don't Ask Don't Tell', but wouldn't go back. Pawlenty.

Romney – Tries to avoid at all costs talking about social issues and says he'd focus on the economy.

Ron Paul and Santorum say  that there should be no don't ask don't tell, that commanders should have the ability to punish bad behavior.

9:13 - Deep Dish or Thin Crust? Cain – Deep Dish

9:14 - Spicy or Mild? Romney – Oh, Spicy. And he adds that the Bruins are up 4-0. Everyone not in the press filing center is watching the hockey game.

9:12 – Of Muslims and Nazis Serving in Government. Gingrich Starts a Debate.

Gingrich suggests that people lie about their allegiance to the country, citing Faisal Shahzad.

He says it was okay to make sure Nazis weren't in the government, maybe for Muslims too. This will be a comment that lives on past this debate. We'll have to go to the transcript.

9:10 – Religion, Sharia Law, and Litmus tests for Muslims – Cain takes umbrage when King suggests he would have a litmus test for Muslims. Talks about the creep of Sharia law into the U.S.

But he clarifies that he would look at their work record, look at their resume. and then during a personal interview he would maybe "ask certain questions" of a Muslim.

Romney – we're never going to have Sharia law in the U.S. because of the Constitution.

Read more about the candidates and Sharia law.

9:06 – Church and State – The question of your view of the separation of church and state is particularly important in this debate as the candidates try to appeal to social conservatives, particularly in Iowa.

Pawlenty – the protections of church and state were made to protect people of faith from the government, not government from the people of faith.

Santorum says faith has to inform everything.

Paul – Interprets the first amendment as saying that Congress should never make a law prohibiting a Christian person's right to practice religion in a public place.

9:02 – Debt Ceiling – Romney says "at some point you hit  a wall." He says he thinks the debt ceiling will only be raised if the President lays out a realistic plan to balance the budget.

Bachmann – Says she has voted against raising the debt ceiling and will again. Then she says it was a failure of leadership for President Obama to vote against it as a senator.

8:59 – Social Security – Cain says he supports private accounts and points to Chile. Pushed, he says he'll raise the retirement age.

It feels like ABC has fact-checked the Chile claim before. Stay tuned.

8:57 – Medicare – Paul hears all this"talk about opting out of "Obamacare"; why can't we opt out of the whole system." The anti-Medicare argument is not a popular one in either party.

Pawlenty addresses Paul, says he'll come forward with a program that would make Medicare continue as an option only.

Gingrich, who once called the Paul Ryan budget plan "right-wing" and "social engineering" now says "there are some things I would do differently."

Santorum says Medicare is going to be cut in 2014 and its going to be "ration of care." That's a claim that Democrats will wholeheartedly dispute.

Cain says Republicans can't slow their Medicare reform plans because the deficit is too great. "If we don't fix this problem its going to be our grandkids in that wheelchair getting thrown off the bridge."

8:52American Idol or Dancing with the Stars? - No hesitation from Gingrich. American Idol. Does not say if he watched his former colleague Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars.

Blackberry or iphone? - Blackberry says Paul.

8:48 – Should the federal government rethink its role in disaster response since FEMA is about out of money?

"Every time you have occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction." Its even better, he says, for the private sector.

This appears to be romney saying the federal government should get out of the disaster reponse business.

8:45 - Cain says the federal government should be doing food safety.

8:44 - Paul – "You want the correction. The corrections are good." That's code for the tough medicine of this downturn is bringing the market where its supposed to be.

8:43NASA FUNDING – Gingrich says that sadly he thinks NASA is the worst example of bureaucracy. If the private sector had been in charge of the space program the U.S. would be much further along. That will be an interesting argument to backup in Florida.

Pawlenty disagrees.

Gingrich points to the transcontinental railroad and says that its not about having a space program, its about having a "real space program that works."

Romney – Some people think the government can do things better. "They're wrong," he says.

Earmark this section for the upcoming Florida debate.

8:40 - On to the Wall Street Bailout!

Paul – Its a fallacy to think the government, the politicans or the bureaucrats" should be bailing out private enterprise. It should never happen.

Cain – Says something drastic could have been done to save Wall Street, but there's no such thing as too big to fail, he says, because the private market will figure it out.

Romney – Says that auto companies should have gone through bankruptcy, which ultimately happened. Romney says the auto rescue was in essense, President Obama putting "his hands on the scales of justice" and helping out the UAW.

8:34 - Elvis or Johnny Cash? – Bachmann says that's tough. King points out its okay for Santorum not to stay up late to watch Leno or Conan because he's got kids.

8:30 - Santorum asked simply, "Leno or Conan." He looks confused and can't answer.

8:29 – Support of right to work laws questioned; Pawlenty says he used to be in a union.

Pawlenty says the government shouldn't be able to tell anyone to join any group, including unions. Adds that he's a former union member and his dad was a Teamster.

Gingrich wants to de-fund the NLRB and points to Boeing and South Carolina.

8:26 – How will you bring manufacturing jobs back?

Ron Paul says that getting rid of the Fed will stop devaluation of the dollar and that's a start.

Pawlenty says he understands what its like to see blue collar jobs leave towns decimated. But he says what we're seeing now is not "fair trade" even though that's what its called. Says he's "not a chump." And he points to a nameless businessman who he says is taking his whole business overseas to get out from "Obamacare." He says the lesson from the business community is "get the government off my back."

Bachmann points out she is a tax attorney and says "what we need to do is pass the mother of all repeal bills." She'd repeal the EPA as part of that mother bill.

Santorum wants to half the caital gains tax and erase it entirely for manufacturers.

8:22 – A guestion on whether tea party and libertarian-minded candidates are actually electable.

Santorum calls the Tea Party a great backstop for America.

Bachmann – says the conservative movement is a three-legged stool and needs all kinds of conservatives. But she promises to applause that "President Obama is a one term president."

Cain is asked of the Tea Party is too negative. Cain says he would be a president who does what's right, not what's "politically right."

8:18 - We pre-cooked a factcheck on Pawlenty's health reform experiment in Minnesota and his criticism of Massachusetts. Read it here.

8:16 - Romney asked about Pawlenty's phrase "Obamneycare" – doesn't engage Pawlenty's slogan. Instead, he says he would make the national plan more state-focused like his.

Pawlenty talks about his own plan in Minnesota. Won't repeat "Obamneycare" despite repeated prodding from John King. Finally refers to it in explaining he was answering a question when he coined the term and wanted to point out that Obama has pointed to Romney's Massachusetts law as a blueprint.

Romney says (again) he wishes that President Obama had given him a call before enacting health reform.

8:12 - What would each candidate do to de-fund "Obamacare."

Bachmann – "I will not rest until we repeal Obamacare." And in case there's any doubt, she says, "Its a promise."

8:10 – Michele Bachmann takes the opportunity of the debate to make some news – she has filed paperwork and is now officially a candidate for president. Interesting venue for an announcement of candiacy.

8:08 - The first question is simple: What would you do as President to create jobs?

Cain – We need the engine that is the private sector. He says we "need to put the right fuel in the engine that is the private sector."

And then moderator John King asks the candidates to justify the Republican ideal that tax cuts will grow the economy and whether 5 percent job growth is unrealistic.

Santorum is asked if 5 percent growth is unrealistic. He answers that "Obamacare" is repressive to businessmen. Says the President has put a stop sign on oil drilling.

Pawlenty is asked "where's the proof" that cutting taxes will make the economy grow.

Romney says "Tim has the right instincts" to blame President Obama for the economy, says "This President has failed."

Gingrich – For 14 million Americans "this is a depression now."

8:02 – The Debate opens with short tweet-style intro bios from the candidates.

Santorum points out that he has seven children. Bachmann says she has five kids and 23 foster kids. Then there's Gingrich, who does not talke about family but refers to the "Obama depression." Romney goes back to family – 5 kids. He wants a bright future for them. Ron Paul one-ups all the people talking about kids by pointing out he used to deliver babies. Now, he says, "I defend the Constitution. Pawlenty says he loves America. Hermain Cain ends it all by saying he's not a politician, he's a problem solver and father of two.

 

7:50pm - The first major Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire gets under way in just about 10 minutes. Our entire political team, in New Hampshire and in Washington, D.C., will offer our rapid response to unspin the candidates and fact-check their answers here.

But first, read this short primer on the field and responses from several campaigns about what they hope to accomplish.

On the stage there will be six candidates and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has not yet officially thrown her hat in the ring. Joining her: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and a favorite of the Tea Party movement.

Read more here about the cast of characters.

Mitt Romney is the front-runner: he has been easily at the top of every recent opinion poll of Republican voters. But his support is well below 50 percent. As the leader of the pack, he is likely to try to stay out of the fray and focus on President Obama. Today Romney released a web video, “Bump in the Road,” in which he mocked President Obama for saying recently, perhaps understating the country’s economic situation, that “there will be bumps in the road to recovery.”

But as front-runner, Romney has a target on his back. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty appears to be ready to go on the offensive, tying Romney, who ushered health care reform into Massachusetts as governor, to President Obama, who signed the controversial national health reform law. Pawlenty called the national law, which is reviled by most Republicans, "Obamneycare."

Pawlenty traveled around New Hampshire all weekend, meeting with voters, and said it was time at the debate to start drawing a contrast between Republicans.

“Many of the Republicans are going to say many of the same things. They're going to say look, we're for cutting spending, reducing taxes, accountability and reform in schools, market-based health care reform, being tough on national security and terrorism and pro-family values. The question isn't can people all say that, the question is who's actually done it," he told reporters Sunday night. "And when you put my record up to the others and the commitment I've had to these issues – I think it'll shine through in this debate and otherwise as this campaign unfolds.“

The Expectations Game

Noone needs this debate as a spark more than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose senior staffers quit en masse last week.

ABC’s Arlette Saenze reports on Gingrich and writes in: Look for Newt to draw attention away from his vanishing campaign structure and direct it to the need to fix the economy by posing a challenge to President Obama.

“Action is needed on the economy now, not in January 2013,” R.C. Hammond, Press Secretary for Newt Gingrich said.  “Newt will put forth and call for action on a jobs plan and challenge the President to act.”

An often forgotten fact is that Newt was the first candidate to release a jobs plan.  At his first campaign event, he unveiled the “Jobs and Prosperity” plan, which outlines eight steps to bolster job growth in the U.S.  hey include halting the 2013 tax increase; fostering business investment; implementing an optional flat tax of 15%; strengthening the dollar; eliminating destructive and ineffective regulations, programs and bureaucracies; implementing an American energy policy; balancing the budget; and reforming entitlement programs.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain is a wildcard in the room. He is a political neophyte, but has shown growth in public support and in name recognition.

ABC’s Katie Slaman spoke with Cain’s Communications Director Ellen Carmichael about their expectations for tonight’s debate:

“Mr. Cain’s focus is to continue to distinguish himself from the other candidates on the stage tonight, especially with his private sector experience and his record of job creation,” Carmichael said.

“Of those people on stage, we’re confident he has the most compelling business background as a turnaround artist and as a job creator.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann is the only candidate on the stage who is not officially a candidate for President. She will announce her intentions this month in Iowa, but ABC’s Russell Goldman reports that she will use tonight’s debate as a stage to present herself to a national audience, said her newly appointed spokeswoman, who deflected questions about whether the Tea Party favorite would join the scrum attacking frontrunner Mitt Romney.

“From Congresswoman Bachmann’s standpoint this is an opportunity to show people where she stands,” said Alice Stewart, who recently joined Bachmann’s still unofficial campaign after working for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in2008.

“Her focus is on letting people know she’s a voice that’s not been part of previous debates.  She’s going to talk about her plans to balance the budget and her own good sound economic ideas.”

Bachmann has said she will make defeating President Obama’s health care plan the principal platform of her campaign, but her spokeswoman would not comment on whether fellow Minnesotan, and sometime rival, time Pawlenty’s ballyhooed plan to attack on Romney on “Obamneycare” had stolen some of her thunder.
               
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum needs to set himself out from the field. Virginia Davis, his Communications Director, told ABC’s Susan Archer that Santorum wants to distinguish himself from the other candidates on social issues, the economy and foreign policy. According to Davis, Santorum really hopes to tackle the issue of spending. He believes he stands apart from the rest of the Republican field on entitlement reform and has the voting record to support that claim.

Santorum’s focus, Davis said, will not be Romney specifically, but the entire field – any candidate who supports policies that are contrary to what Santorum believes is right for America.

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