AMES, Iowa — The notion of “Minnesota nice” took a hit in the presidential debate here Thursday night, as former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann, both of Minnesota, took aggressive public swipes at each other, blasting one another’s records and questioning whether they were ready to run the country.
The battle royale between the the two Gopher State Republicans started early on in the testy two-hour presidential debate, underscoring just how much they each had riding on the debate and the high-profile Ames Straw Poll Saturday — which can make or break a campaign.
“It is an indisputable fact that her record of accomplishments and results is nonexistent. That’s not going to be good enough for our candidate for president of the United States,” Mr. Pawlenty said about Mrs. Bachmann, before rattling off what he casts as his conservative record of accomplishments.
“That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama if you ask me,” the three-term congresswoman said, adding that she has a consistent record of fighting for the Constitution and that she voted against raising the debt ceiling. “People are looking for a champion; they want someone who has been fighting.”
The debate featured another round of stiff criticism of President Obama, with the Republicans criticizing everything from his economic to military and social policy.
Former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain, meanwhile, promises to cut taxes and Texas Rep. Ron Paul called for the troops to be brought home from the military conflicts overseas. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum vowed to fight for a federal marriage amendment, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ripped into the moderators for their “gotcha” questions and also criticized the new deficit super-committee that was part of the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling and that is tasked with recommending $1.5 trillion in tax increases or spending cuts.
“I think this super-committee is about as dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime,” he said, predicting that “they’re going to walk in just before Thanksgiving, say: ‘All right, we can shoot you in the head or cut off your right leg. Which do you prefer?’ “
The debate also featured the first foray onto the debate stage by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who entered the race with high expectations and a message of political civility in June. Since then, Mr. Huntsman, Mr. Obama’s former ambassador to China, has gone through a campaign staff shakeup and struggled to gain any traction in national polls.
Mr. Huntsman defended his decision to serve as ambassador to China under President Obama and his support of civil unions for gay men and women, while also boasting about his record of cutting taxes and making Utah “number one in this country in terms of job creation.”
Before the debate, many were curious to see whether anyone would take a hard swing at the record of Mr. Romney, the frontrunner in national polls and fundraising — especially after he emerged from the June debate in New Hampshire largely unscathed.
Mr. Romney, though, once again emerged with only a few scratches, benefiting from sniping between some of his GOP rivals.
Mr. Paul, for instance, accused Mr. Santorum of engaging in war propaganda on Iran and suggested that he misunderstood the history behind the U.S. involvement in the country. Mr. Santorum suggested that anyone who shared Mr. Paul’s views is “obviously not seeing the world very clearly.”