Both came ready to brawl. But neither Gov. Rick Perry nor U.S. Rep. Ron Paul managed to nudge Mitt Romney out of the limelight at this morning’s debate.
A mere half-day after the last time they faced off, the GOP hopefuls gathered again this morning in Concord, NH at the historic Chubb Theater at the Capitol Center. As they did last night, Paul and Perry continued to throw as many punches as they could from the sidelines. But the focus was once again on frontrunner Romney, who dealt with prickly questions about his electability and his record as Massachusetts governor, including his past support of gay rights.
For his first question of the debate, Perry was asked whether Romney was “unelectable.” He took the chance to emphasize his differences with all the other candidates on stage, who he said were Washington insiders who have only contributed to government overspending.
“I mean the fact of the matter is that Obama has thrown gasoline on the fire, but the bonfire was burning well before Obama got there,” he said. “It was policies and spending, both from Wall Street and from the insiders in Washington, D.C., that got us in this problem.”
Perry also reiterated his view that President Obama is a socialist. In response to a question, he said that he did not agree with Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2011 Washington Post op-ed that called the president a “patriot."
“I don't think our founding fathers wanted America to be a socialist country," Perry said. "I reject that premise that somehow or another that Obama represents the beliefs of our founding fathers."
But despite those highlights from Perry, the 90-minute debate mostly centered around Romney’s rivals attempting to trip him at every step. Toward the end, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose support vastly dwindled in Iowa after a Romney super PAC began airing attack ads against him, may have landed a blow.
When asked to explain his recent statements in the media calling Romney a “liar,” Gingrich called Romney out for the ads. After first claiming that he had never seen them, the Massachusetts governor then unleashed a lengthy defense of each attack in the ads — a strange defense for someone who claimed not to know their contents.
Paul also fielded a few attacks of his own. In a question about delivering on campaign promises, former Pennsylvania senator and Iowa darling Rick Santorum said the problem with Paul was that “all the things that Republicans like about him he can't accomplish and all the things they're worried about he'll do day one.”
Without much airtime, it was difficult for either Texan to make a lasting impression. At the end of the debate, Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who did not campaign in Iowa and is lagging in the polls, were the only two candidates who did not get a chance to give a coveted 30-second answer to a question — because moderators ran out of time. Paul’s campaign played up the inattention, sending out a press release during the debate noting that “the person who came in top three in Iowa, is polling second in New Hampshire, did the best in last night’s debate, and is top two in fundraising received only one question in the first 35 minutes of this debate.”
Appearing for Paul in the post-debate spin room, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said his father “didn’t get a lot of time” in the debate. He also addressed the attacks from Gingrich and Santorum.
"He's been dishing it out too, so what you dish out you get in return sometimes,” he said. “But what we've been dishing out on the others is, if you really want to be a Reagan conservative, you can't be for doubling the size of education."
In an indication of their priorities, the Perry campaign appeared only briefly in the spin room before leaving to catch a plane to South Carolina. Paul will stay in New Hampshire through the primary. He is set to appear at a town hall meeting tonight.
Watch the full debate below, courtesy of NBC News.
The Texas Tribune liveblogged the debate, which aired as special broadcast of Meet the Press, sponsored by NBC News, Facebook and the New Hampshire Union Leader and was moderated by NBC Anchor David Gregory, below.
Should be an interesting morning...
"Obama has thrown gasoline on the fire, but the bonfire was burning long before he go there," Perry says, adding that because he's an outsider, he's the candidate who can "draw that stark contrast" with Obama and "lead tea party movement back."
Santorum takes this chance to get a shot in at Paul, who he says has been "out there on the margins." The problem with Paul, he says, is that "all the things that Republicans like about him he can't accomplish and everything they are worried about he can do from day 1"
Paul responds by saying it's "not exactly a simple task" to do away with 100 years of foreign and monetary policy.
"We have a president that's a socialist. I don't think our founding fathers wanted America to be a socialist country," Perry says, "I reject that premise that somehow or another that Obama represents the beliefs of our founding fathers."