MANCHESTER, N.H. | The state with the first-in-the-nation primary held what was billed as the first presidential summit of the 2012 campaign, as five potential Republican contenders took to a stage here, leveling criticism at the Obama administration and delivering some of the political red meat that they thought the conservative crowd was yearning to hear.
They called for lower taxes on corporations and individuals, as well as a repeal of President Obama’s health care overhaul. They called for increased oil and gas exploration and drilling in the United States, and for Congress to push back against additional EPA regulations. They called for reforms to the entitlement programs such as Social Security, a balanced budget amendment and, perhaps the general theme of the night, restoring America’s “greatness.”
“America’s greatness is being challenged by those who would make us more like Europe or some other place,” former Gov. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the crowd of 600 people. “The right answer for America is to not turn elsewhere it is to turn northward to New Hampshire and other great states that understand the principles of freedom and opportunity and free enterprise and capitalism and smaller government and federalism and the Constitution.”
Sponsored by the New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the forum, dubbed as “Summit on Spending and Job Creation,” served as a soft launch of sorts for the 2012 GOP primary, giving some sense of the themes likely to dominate the campaign season.
It also provided a glimpse of the people who might duke it out for party’s nod - Mr. Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, of Minnesota, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain, the Atlanta businessman whose never held elected office.
Despite the fight to come, the group stayed cordial throughout the evening, keeping their attacks aimed at Mr. Obama and Democrats.
Speaking first, Mr. Pawlenty told the crowd that the consistent message he hears form constituents and the business community is to “get the government off my back!”
“As government pushes into families and neighborhoods and community and places of worship and taxes them and slows them down, we need to push back and say we’re taking our country back,” Mr. Pawlenty said, before telling the crowd that the eligibility age for Social Security should be increased.
He also had to correct himself after telling the crowd he was running for president, saying “To be formally and finally announced later.”
Mr. Santorum blamed the high gas prices on the nation’s over reliance on unreliable oil producing nation’s overseas and the lack of gasoline drilling at home. “We need to make sure that gasoline is coming from here and those prices will come down,” he said.
Mrs. Bachmann took another swipe at the President’s health care package, calling it a “Franklenstein” and arguing that it shouldn’t get any of the funding needed to put it in place. The Minnesota Republican also said the corporate business tax rate should be cut to nine percent, that Congress should not increase the country’s borrowing limit and that it was time to scrap the tax code an adopt a national consumption tax.
“Some call it a fair tax and as far as I’m concerned a fair tax or flat tax, let’s get rid of what we’ve got and start over,” Mrs. Bachmann said.
While the event hosts tried to downplay a looming national story-line that suggests the GOP primary in New Hampshire is slow to develop because the field is weak, the response from the crowd was enthusiastic, but subdued throughout the event.
Mr. Cain earned the biggest reaction, saying that when it comes to spending the Obama White House and Congress must “cut, cut, cut!”
“By putting more of the people’s money back in the hands of the people, we will get government out of the business of picking winners and losers,” Mr. Cain said. “Government’s role is not picking winners and losers. Government’s role is to provide an environment where businesses thrive and not just survive.”
The event came on the heels of an April 26 poll from WMUR Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, that showed Mr. Romney leading Obama 50 to 43 percent among the 504 New Hampshire voters.
Asked whether he would have still signed the health care bill he signed into law as governor that many see as the predecessor to the president’s controversial healthcare overhaul, Mr. Romney was noncommittal. He said that the plan was not perfect and promised that the “one thing I would never would be to impose a one size fits all plan like OBamacare on the nation - that is simply wrong and its unconstitutional.”
“I of course will fight to repeal Obamacare, but on day one, if I were president of the United States, I would instruct the secretary of health and human services to grant a waiver for Obamacare to all 50 states,” he said.