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N.H. Debate Take Two: Perry, Paul Struggle for Relevance

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.

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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.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Texas Tribune liveblogged the debate, which aired as special broadcast of Meet the Press, sponsored by NBC NewsFacebook and the New Hampshire Union Leader and was moderated by NBC Anchor David Gregory, below.

Liveblog

by Thanh Tan
Good morning from Concord, NH! Not sure how much sleep these candidates have actually had since facing off last night, but they're back and at it again this morning on a special broadcast of Meet the Press. I can tell you that right outside the debate hall, I noticed about 100 supporters waving signs for Romney, Huntsman, Gingrich and Paul. There's also a group of anti-Zionist Jews outside the hall, calling on the candidates to remember the plight of the Palestinians.

Should be an interesting morning...
by Thanh Tan
Each candidate has 90 seconds to respond to questions. Gregory gets to ask follow-up questions and moderate rebuttals. Some questions will come from him; some will come from the public via social media. Gregory to candidates: "Thank you for debating each other every ten hours, whether you need to or not."
by Thanh Tan
Opening minutes of the debate dominated by back-and-forth between Romney, Gingrich and Santorum. Latter two are going after Romney. Gingrich says he's too moderate. Santorum says Romney has "bailed out" and "run to the left" of Ted Kennedy in previous campaigns.
by Thanh Tan
Does Paul believe Romney is a man of consistency? Paul responds by saying they won't do well against Obama if they have a candidate who endorsed single payer system and bailouts, etc. Character, motivation and history is important, "but it's less significant than what we really believe in." He gets applause from the audience.
by Morgan Smith
Perry gets his first question of the day, on whether Romney is electable. The governor says that everyone on the stage (besides him) is a "Washington insider" who has contributed to the government spending problem in DC.

"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."
by Thanh Tan
Perry gets first question from Facebook fan. Is it un-American for Americans to feel relieved when the government helps them? Perry responds first by saying he'd reduce the "bureaucrats" at the departments of Energy, Commerce and Education. (Kinda poking fun at himself.) "The fact of the matter is that Americans want to have a job. That's the issue here." Clamoring for the government to give them assistance is "just wrong."
by Morgan Smith
A Facebook user asks how Paul is going to work with the House and the Senate to do what he's promised, and points out that the congressman has sponsored 620 bills and only 1 has been signed into law. Paul says that "demonstrates how out of touch Congress is with the American people." On working together, Paul says his "record is about as good as anyone's" and that he believes "freedom and constitution bring people together."

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.
by Thanh Tan
Perry: "I hope I'm making Congress uncomfortable right now." Once again, he calls the other candidates on stage "insiders." He goes on to say "Dr. Paul says the biggest problem is our work overseas. The big problem is a Congress that is out of control with their spending." He also wants a balanced budget amendment. He says their conservative records don't hold up.
by Morgan Smith
Paul gets a question about energy subsidies and the government's heating assistance program for low income families that can't afford to heat their homes. The congressman doesn't answer the question about the heating assistance program, but says subsidies are "bad morale policy" and "bad economic policy."
by Thanh Tan
Perry asked about 'right to work', which is a hot topic in NH. Perry says it's a federal issue. He wants to repeal federal legislation that forces states to make that decision rather than just being outright "right to work." He's pro-jobs. "If they kill jobs, you throw them out.... I'm a right to work guy. I come from a right to work state."
by Morgan Smith
Romney is the pinata of this debate. Just got a prickly question about his record of more moderate positions on gay rights. He says "I don't discriminate."
by Thanh Tan
What services are all Americans entitled to? Paul responds by saying,"Entitlements are not right. Rights mean you have a right to life and to liberty... and to keep the fruits of your labor." He says this approach applies to minorities, women, and gay people.
by Morgan Smith
Perry is asked whether he agrees with a January 2011 Washington Post op-ed by John McCain calling Obama a patriot and rejecting "accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals."

"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."
by Thanh Tan
Paul's closing 30-second response to question about using the "bully pulpit" of the presidency: "I would continue doing what I'm doing now— preaching the gospels of liberty." We have deserted the founding fathers' vision... "We need to defend liberty AND liberty!"

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