Rivals target Santorum in debate

GOP hopefuls criticize Obama on contraceptives mandate, illegals

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

View results

MESA, Ariz. — The Republican presidential field became a circular firing squad Wednesday night, with the four major candidates accusing each other of failing to live up to conservative principles — with rising candidate Rick Santorum taking the brunt of attacks.

In a debate before a boisterous Arizona audience, most of the candidates backed the state’s strict approach to illegal immigration — Mitt Romney went so far as to call it “a model” — and accused President Obama of pushing too far in requiring religiously affiliated institutions, such as Catholic colleges and hospitals, to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.

But with no clear front-runner in the GOP field, the candidates spent a large part of their time combing over each other’s records, especially Mr. Santorum‘s.

“He’s a fake,” said Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, pointing to Mr. Santorum’s repeated votes for spending bills and increased debt during his 16 years in Congress. Mr. Romney piled on, saying that Mr. Santorum also supported earmarks, such as for the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” project in Alaska.

“I think we all have had votes that I look back on, I wish I wouldn’t have voted [for],” Mr. Santorum explained, but argued the rest of the field was just as tainted by issues such as earmarks, which Mr. Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both engaged in, and which Mr. Romney requested during his term as Massachusetts governor and as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

Health care also returned to center stage as Mr. Romney blamed Mr. Santorum for supporting then-Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2004 election over a conservative Republican primary challenger. Mr. Specter would later switch from Republican to Democrat and be one of the 60 votes that pushed Democrats’ health care law through the Senate.

“If you had not supported him, if we had said no to Arlen Specter, we would not have ‘Obamacare.’ So don’t look at me, take a look in the mirror,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Santorum said his support for Mr. Specter — who while still a Republican became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — led to the successful confirmations of dozens of conservative judges, including Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr.

“I did the right thing for our country,” Mr. Santorum said.

The debate was aired live on CNN, and marks the last one before Arizona and Michigan Republicans go to the polls on Tuesday, and nearly a dozen other primaries and caucuses take place the week after that on Super Tuesday on March 6.

In one of the few moments of unity, most of the field backed Arizona’s approach to immigration and said they would drop the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s enforcement policy.

And at another point, the entire field — and much of the audience — objected when host John King asked the candidates about their personal stance on contraception.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once again jumped at the chance to be referee, blasting Mr. King and his colleagues in the press for focusing on Republicans when he said there was plenty of room to question President Obama in 2008 — but nobody in the press did.

“You did not once in the 2008 campaign — not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide,” said Mr. Gingrich, pointing to a vote in the Illinois Legislature where Mr. Obama opposed a bill that would have required doctors to try to save babies born alive in the middle of botched abortions.

In one light moment, the candidates were asked to sum themselves up in one word. Mr. Paul labeled himself “consistent,” Mr. Santorum used the word “courage,” Mr. Romney called himself “resolute” and Mr. Gingrich described himself as “cheerful” — drawing chuckles and a nod of approval from Mr. Romney.

There have been 20 debates so far, but this is the last one scheduled until March 19, when The Washington Times, Oregon Public Radio, PBS and NPR co-sponsor a final one scheduled in Portland, Ore.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Romney released an updated version of his tax plan to compete with Mr. Obama, whose administration this week proposed eliminating a number of corporate tax breaks and subsidies in exchange for lowering the overall corporate income-tax rate to 28 percent.

Mr. Romney said the government needs to go further and reduce rates for individuals as well, arguing that 55 percent of workers are employed by small businesses that pay their taxes as individual income, not as corporate taxes.

He proposed reducing the top individual tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, with cuts at the lower levels as well, and proposed reducing the corporate rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.

“More jobs, less debt, smaller government,” he said at a morning speech in Chandler, Ariz.

In the overall race for the nomination, Mr. Romney is the closest thing the field has to a front-runner. He has the most raw votes cast for him and has the lead in actual delegates earned, thanks to his wins in New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada and Maine.

Mr. Santorum has wins in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and a nonbinding primary victory in Missouri. Mr. Gingrich won South Carolina, while Mr. Paul has yet to notch a victory.

After several upheavals last year and again after Iowa and New Hampshire, the GOP’s field has been set for the past month, and all four major candidates say they will compete deep into the calendar.

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney are the major players in Tuesday’s primaries, according to polls that show Mr. Romney leading in Arizona and showing the race tight in Michigan.

Mr. Paul plans to spend much of the weekend campaigning in Michigan, though his strength has been in caucus states.

Mr. Gingrich has not done much campaigning in either Arizona or Michigan, but is focusing on later battles, such as Washington state’s March 3 caucuses and Super Tuesday contests in Georgia, Idaho and elsewhere on March 6.

Earlier on Wednesday, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who had been trying to compete as a Republican but had gained no traction, announced that he would seek the Reform Party’s nomination as well as run in the online nonpartisan primary for a group calling itself Americans Elect.

Mr. Roemer took a parting shot at the debates, from which he has been excluded, saying they have “turned their backs on the democratic process.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks