GOP challengers go after Romney in Sunday debate

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of “pious baloney” Sunday for saying he’s not a career politician, demanding in a campaign debate that the Republican presidential front-runner “just level with the American people.”

Mr. Romney denied the accusation briskly.

“Politics is not my career,” he said. “My life’s passion has been my family, my faith, my country.”

The exchange — and another one in which former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum swapped jibes with Mr. Romney — marked the opening moments of the second half of a weekend debate doubleheader in the run-up to Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Mr. Romney won the Iowa caucuses last Tuesday by eight votes over Mr. Santorum. He leads in the polls in New Hampshire, where his rivals have all but conceded he will win.

South Carolina comes next, on Jan. 21, the first Southern state to hold a primary, and Mr. Romney pointedly noted that he has been endorsed by that state’s governor, Nikki Haley.

The debate began only hours after one in which Mr. Romney’s rivals made early attempts to knock him off-stride but spent more time squabbling among themselves in an attempt to emerge as his chief rival.

Mr. Santorum finished second in Iowa, followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, with Mr. Gingrich fourth, Texas Gov. Rick Perry fifth and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in last place. She has since quit the race. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman skipped Iowa in hopes of a breakout showing in New Hampshire.

Mr. Perry drew laughter as well as applause when he said that federal bureaucrats would experience pain as a result of his plans to cut spending, especially those in the departments of Education, Commerce and Energy. That was a reference to his gaffe in an earlier debate when he couldn’t recall the name of the third of the Cabinet-level agencies he has proposed eliminating.

Mr. Huntsman, who was President Obama’s ambassador to China before quitting to run for the White House, returned to a comment Mr. Romney had made the night before. Mr. Romney said then that the rest of the GOP hopefuls had been trying to oppose the administration’s policies while Mr. Huntsman was advancing them.

“And I just want to remind the people here in New Hampshire and throughout the United States, he criticized me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China, yes, under a Democrat, like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They’re not asking what political affiliation the president is. “

Generally, the morning-after debate followed the same trend as the one the night before.

Mr. Romney shrugged off the attacks from his rivals on the debate stage and worked to turn the focus onto Mr. Obama and the long road to economic recovery, while his rivals maneuvered for position. Mr. Romney said he doesn’t blame the president for the recession, which was well under way when Mr. Obama took office in 2009. “What I blame him for is having it go on so long and going so deep and having a recovery that’s so tepid.”

Mr. Obama has been “anti-investment, anti-jobs and anti-business,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich, for his part, said Mr. Romney was a “relatively timid Massachusetts moderate” whose state ranked fourth from the bottom in job creation when he was governor.

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