Gaffe-Free Debate for Perry, but Paul Steals the Show

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Gov. Rick Perry may have had a lot riding on the last debate before the Iowa caucuses, but U.S. Rep. Ron Paul stole the show Thursday night in Sioux City.

Perry managed to survive the two-hour event without committing another "oops" moment. Sounding more confident than he has in previous televised appearances, the Texas governor drew positive reaction for his efforts to make Congress a part-time body. He also said he was ready to take on President Barack Obama in a general election debate.

"I'm kinda getting to where I like these debates. As a matter of fact, I hope Obama and I debate a lot, and I'll get there early. We will get it on and we will talk about our differences," Perry said, before reciting one of the more memorable lines of the night before an audience he hopes will give him another look. "I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses." (Watch the clip below.)

Paul began the evening arguing for his plan to cut $1 trillion in government spending, but he ended it by fervently defending his anti-interventionist foreign policy views. This included a prolonged verbal exchange with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who said she considers Iran to be a serious threat to the security of the United States.

Bachmann appeared stunned as Paul warned against believing "war propaganda" that could lead to an armed conflict with Iran.

With his hands raised, an exasperated Paul declared the U.S. had no evidence Iran has nuclear weapons and "we don't need another war!"

Demonstrating why he is far outside mainstream Republican views on defense spending and engagement abroad, Paul also said the war in Iraq was "useless" and "we lost so much." He called for using "diplomacy once in a while."

The libertarian-leaning candidate also dropped other bombshell statements that drew a smattering of applause, as well as some boos, from the audience: "Why do we have to bomb so many countries? And we're totally bankrupt. How are we going to build a military when we have no money?"

The two-hour debate on Fox News featured seven candidates and touched on domestic and foreign policies. Early on, it was clear the frontrunner, Newt Gingrich was getting beaten up by his opponents, mostly for his acceptance of $1.6 million in consulting fees from troubled mortgage lender Freddie Mac. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney avoided placing any $10,000 bets against his opponents.

In their early assessments of the debate, pundits generally praised Perry for his improved performances. However, it may be too late. Perry was largely ignored throughout the evening and was not targeted by other candidates as he was when he first entered the race.

In the post-debate "spin room," former U.S. Marine Captain Dan Moran, speaking on behalf of the Perry campaign, said it worked better for the governor to spend his precious time promoting his own views and not tangling with rivals.

"When people are in a knife fight you kind of want to stay out of that. I think that's what you saw tonight," Moran said.

Meanwhile, Paul is polling well in Iowa and New Hampshire. News reports indicate his grassroots campaign in both states is being propped up by a passionate and loyal base.

"He's polling in the top three," said Gary Howard, a national press secretary for Paul's presidential campaign. He told the Tribune that momentum helped Paul break out of the pack during this latest televised debate. "He's gotten a little bit more (time) than usual. I mean it's more than 89 seconds. There was a couple of debates when he was barely on the screen."

Even if he wins the Iowa caucuses, the idea that Paul could be the Republican nominee remains a hard concept for some to accept. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer characterized Paul's performance as "wacky, and yet impressive at times." Perhaps The New York Times' Nate Silver said it best in this 140-character Tweet: "Ron Paul did lots to help himself with the 15% of the party who already love him. Little for the 85% who don't."

The nationally televised debate comes as Perry begins a bus tour through Iowa, with more than 40 stops planned before New Year’s Day. Perry is already lowering expectations, noting on Fox News on Thursday that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 but failed to secure the nomination.

“You want to win here, but you don’t have to,” Perry told Fox’s Neil Cavuto. Perry said he hoped to finish in the top three in Iowa but would keep soldiering on, through upcoming contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, even if he places fourth.

Perry said the face time with voters will help him in Iowa, where he quipped that people like to "sniff on ya."

Recent polls show Perry coming up a bit as front-running candidate Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, has seen his support erode. In the recent ABC News debate, Gingrich was the target of incessant barbs from his rivals, including top-tier candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who can't seem to break away from the competition.

Our liveblog is below: 

Liveblog

by Jay Root
Packed media filing center at Sioux City Convention Center. The catering is authentically top notch tonight, and offers a splash of Texas: Tacos, beans and rice from La Juanita Mexican restaurant.
by Thanh Tan
Fox News' GOP debate in Sioux City, Iowa has officially started. This is the final debate before Christmas and the first caucuses in Iowa. Here we go... The audience sounds pretty excited. Bret Baier is moderating.
by Jay Root
Gingrich says its "laughable" that his conservative credentials are coming into question.
by Thanh Tan
Seven candidates at the podium. Baier opens with question about electability. Who is best positioned to beat President Barack Obama? Frontrunner and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich gets first shot at answering.
by Thanh Tan
Megyn Kelly questions U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's electability and asks if he will pledge to support the ultimate nominee. Paul responds by saying any of the seven candidates on stage can beat Obama. "I have something different to offer." His philosophy is about the constitution and freedom, and it's an American philosophy that appeals to a lot of people. "It opens up the door for supporting my willingness to cut $1 trillion out of the budget the first year."
by Thanh Tan
Chris Wallace asks why former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would be more effective candidate. He responds by lambasting Obama's record. Cites his work in the private sector. "I know what it takes to get this economy going," Romney says. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, 55, says she spent 50 years as a "real person" and five years "fighting" President Obama's policies.
by Thanh Tan
Fox moderator's first question to Gov. Rick Perry: voters fear possibility Perry can't face Obama in a debate. "I'm kinda getting to where I like these debates... we will get it on and we will talk about our differences." Invokes football star Tim Tebow. "I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses."
by Jay Root
Huntsman says he won't "contort myself into a pretzel" to pander to voters, and disses Donald Trump.
by Thanh Tan
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman declares he's not going to participate in Trump's debate. Crowd reaction delayed. "We are getting screwed as Americans, and we're going to lead the charge" in dealing with economic and trust deficits. Says we need term limits in Congress and stop the "revolving door."
by Jay Root
Perry says Obama has been doing "on the job training." Promises to use his "governing executive experience" if elected.
by Thanh Tan
Perry says this country needs a president who knows how to work with both sides of the aisle and the country needs the kind of leadership he has provided to Texas.
by Thanh Tan
Congressman Paul: Government is too big and spending too much. Too much policing of the world. Basically, he wants to make everyone come together and make cuts. Going into commercial break, moderator announces new feature. Audience can Tweet candidate names and use hashtags: #answer or #dodge. Quirky? Yes.
by Jay Root
Romney, explaining some past business failures, says "in the real world sometimes things don't make it."
by Thanh Tan
Re: criticism he's made millions while firing employees, Romney says he has led four different organizations. "We did our very best" to make those businesses work. Gingrich responds to accusations he is a hypocrite for taking consulting fees from Freddie Mac. He says he was "a private citizen engaged in a business like any other business." It's a "good conservative principle" to help people learn how to buy a house.
by Thanh Tan
U.S. Rep. Paul says GSE (government sponsored enterprise) is a government agency. "It's the worst kind of economy." He just accused Gingrich of indirectly getting money from taxpayers because they had to bail out Freddie Mac. Gingrich responds by saying there are a lot of good government sponsored programs. "I did no lobbying of any kind for any organization," Gingrich declares. Bachmann says she is "shocked" to hear Gingrich continue to defend Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae when they were the "epicenter" of the financial meltdown.
by Jay Root
In Paul's criticism of Gingrich, he says Freddie Mac is a "mixture of business and government." Said those kinds of enterprises could into "fascism." Said the money is "literally coming from the taxpayer."
by Thanh Tan
Gingrich says Bachmann is "factually untrue" because he never lobbied. "I never tried to slow down reform efforts. Sometimes people ought to have facts before they make wild allegations." Bachmann responds by saying she was fact-checked and Gingrich took $1.6 million. "You don't need to be a lobbyist" to be an influence peddler in DC, she says.
by Jay Root
Gingrich getting pounded by rivals, on the defensive about his work for Freddie Mac
by Jay Root
Perry not getting much air time. Most of the attention is on Romney and Gingrich.
by Thanh Tan
We're about 40 minutes into this debate. Don't have a timer here, but it appears Gingrich is clearly getting the most time to talk. Comes with that frontrunner status.
by Jay Root
Ron Paul getting a lot more air time tonight.
by Thanh Tan
Rep. Paul is questioned about taking earmarks that have benefited his Texas district. Is that a mixed message? Paul says, "It's a mixed question." The whole thing is out of control because "Congress has an obligation to earmark every penny." If you don't vote for the earmark, the executive branch gets that money. "It's this whole principle of budgeting that's messed up." He's never voted for an earmark, but he has to try to get that money back to his district. "You want to emphasize the responsibility of the Congress" to not give more power to the president. He doesn't want to run the world, people's lifestyle, or police the world.
by Jay Root
Perry, called out on old story about a program failure in Texas Agriculture Department, says "don't believe everything you read int the Austin American Statesman."
by Jay Root
Perry says Congress should meet every other year for 140 days, just like in Texas
by Thanh Tan
Romney says he wants to let markets determine what the future course of our economy is going to be. He thinks manufacturing will come back to US and high tech will be area of high growth. Energy, too. Accuses Obama of closing off areas that could be explored.
by Jay Root
The question that prompted Perry's fiery vow to cut Congress' pay and make it a part time body focused on the bad loans made during Perry's tenure as ag commissioner: "Aren’t you guilty of the same behavior you rail against as a presidential candidate." Perry said the program worked as intended.
by Thanh Tan
Gingrich showing off his historical chops, cites event that happened in 1802 during his criticism of "activist judges." Especially critical of Ninth Circuit Court. Bachmann, too.
by Thanh Tan
Bachmann would only appoint judges to the court who believe in the "original" interpretation of the Constitution. Paul weighs in and says to "subpoena" judges before Congress is bad. Abolishing courts is "opening up a can of worms."
by Thanh Tan
Bachmann would only appoint judges to the court who believe in the "original" interpretation of the Constitution. Paul weighs in and says to "subpoena" judges before Congress is bad. Abolishing courts is "opening up a can of worms."
by Thanh Tan
Romney says he prefers appointing prosecutors to become justices. Doesn't agree with having Congress oversee or meddle with justices, although he supports passing new amendments and the impeachment process. Perry says he wants to abolish lifetime terms. Favorite SCOTUS justices? Perry likes Alito or Thomas. Gingrich likes the four conservative judges, chiefly Scalia. Paul says, "They're all good and they're all bad."
by Jay Root
Asked if he would run to the left of Obama on Iran, Paul says "I'd be running with the American people" ... Paul says there is "no evidence" of Iran getting nuclear weapons, says this seems like build up to Iraq war. Worries about "war propaganda," getting into conflict under false pretenses.
by Jay Root
Paul says the US treats countries with nuclear weapons with "a lot more respect." Says emphatically, "we don't need another war."
by Jay Root
Still on Iran, Paul says, "We ought to use a little bit of diplomacy once in a while."
by Thanh Tan
Romney says Obama's foreign policy is characterized by "timidity and weakness" and he puts forward foreign policy based on "pretty please."
by Thanh Tan
Bachmann versus Paul! "I have never heard a more dangerous answer" than the one from Ron Paul, she says. You can hear booing in the crowd, mixed with applause. She says Iran is dangerous because it would use weapons against Israel and is an enemy of the U.S. Paul says they're not after the U.S. because of our "freedom." He says the CIA has explained it. They're against the U.S. "because we're bombing them." Why are we flying a drone over Iran? Why do we have to bomb so many countries? And we're totally bankrupt? How are we gonna build a military when we have no money" He's on a roll...
by Jay Root
Bachmann looks stunned at Ron Paul tirade
by Jay Root
Ron Paul is on fire tonight
by Thanh Tan
Bachmann firing back at Paul and says Iran is months away from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Paul says she is totally wrong. "That is not true. They produced information that led you to believe that, but there's no evidence," he replied. Bachmann says, "If we believe that, the United States would be at risk." Paul cites when he was drafted into the military and when Kennedy was president dealing with Cuban crisis.
by Thanh Tan
Perry repeats he would call for a no-fly zone over Syria. "We must stand firm" with allies in the Middle East, including Israel. Obama Administration has "absolutely bungled" policy in the region.
by Jay Root
Perry says Obama took "worst and weakest" path on drone lost in Iran, says he chose to "do nothing"
by Jay Root
Perry is pressed on whether he's being hypocritical by criticizing Washington for doling out tax breaks to industry when he did the same thing in Texas, including for the oil and gas industry. Perry says it's different for states, says tax breaks are in their purview and that Washington shouldn't be "picking winners and losers." Perry says states want "Washington out of their hair."
by Thanh Tan
On to border issues and immigration. (A big topic on Twitter) Megyn Kelly points out Perry has called on US Attorney General Eric Holder to resign because of "Fast and Furious" debacle. Is he politicizing this issue? Perry says if he were president and his AG didn't know about what happened, he'd order that person to resign." Must defend our border from other countries trying to penetrate the U.S.
by Thanh Tan
Perry ridiculed Holder for saying the U.S.-Mexico border is safe as it's ever been. Calls for applying Monroe Doctrine-like policy.
by Jay Root
Here comes the flip flop question to Mitt Romney
by Jay Root
Romney says he's never changed on gay rights. Says he doesn't think people should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation but has always been against same sex marriage.
by Jay Root
Romney stresses he is not anti-gay, says he had a member of cabinet who was gay. Santorum now pounding him for being too pro-gay.
by Thanh Tan
Romney says he is firmly in support of people not being discriminated against for their sexual orientation. He doesn't believe in same-sex marriage. "With regard to abortion, I simply changed my mind." He says his experience in life tells him that sometimes, he's been wrong. He claims he's always supported gun rights, too. Wallace cites Romney's campaign letter from 90s indicating he was for gay rights and evidence he supported 5-day waiting period for people trying to buy guns, etc. Santorum now criticizing Romney's record.
by Thanh Tan
Bachmann says Gingrich had an opportunity as speaker of the house to de-fund Planned Parenthood and he didn't do it. Also pounds him for not taking stronger action against partial-term abortions. "Sometimes, Congressman Bachmann doesn't get her facts right," Gingrich responds. He says he believes life begins at conception.
by Jay Root
Bachmann gets angry after Gingrich says she doesn't get her facts right sometimes, says she is a "serious candidate" for president and accuses former speaker of favoring bill to allow "infanticide."
by Thanh Tan
Gingrich says he has consistently opposed partial-term abortions, opposes abortions. He promises to de-fund Planned Parenthood and shift that funding to crisis pregnancy centers. Someone in audience yelled out something... distracting the moderator.
by Thanh Tan
As debate winds down, Romney reminds audience the battle is against President Obama. Paul says there should be lines drawn and "some things have been below the belt." Debate ends. Thanks for following, everyone.

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