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Myrtle Beach South Carolina

January 17, 2012 by staff 

Myrtle Beach South Carolina, The candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination have now participated in up to 16 nationally televised debates, and the experience showed last night during their latest meeting in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Mitt Romney largely stayed calm and presidential in bearing even while facing a frontrunner’s fusillade from his rivals.

Rick Santorum, knowing he must stage a strong showing in Saturday’s South Carolina primary to remain relevant in the race, lured Romney into a debate trap and also passionately outlined pro-family views sure to charm the state’s social conservative bloc.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry – together facing the same make-or-break stakes as Santorum – had perhaps their strongest debates yet.

Gingrich sparked cheers from the conservative audience by staring down suggestions of racism during a debate on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the state that ignited the Civil War, while Perry used every opportunity to outline an anti-Washington view embraced by the Tea Party backers he is counting upon to save his once-promising candidacy.

And Ron Paul showed once again he can rise from laconic on the stump to energetic on the debate stage, but the 78-year-old also had his most befuddled moment of the campaign, as he scrambled to distance himself from comments criticizing his own country for raiding Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.

If anything, the performances only heightened the stakes for the 17th debate, on Thursday in Charleston, S.C., which is the final meeting for the candidates before a primary that likely will deeply cull the field.

Gingrich and Perry set the tone early, criticizing Romney for job cuts made by Bain Capital LLC when was running the Boston-based private equity company.

“I don’t think raising questions is a prerogative only of Barack Obama, and I don’t think Republicans should allow themselves to automatically be intimidated because every time you raise a question somebody yells you are doing something the Democrats will do,” Gingrich said in fending off the suggestion that his attacks were actually aiding the party’s Democratic opponents. “I raise questions that I think are legitimate questions.”

Perry, who has branded Bain’s practices as “vulture capitalism,” chimed in, noting Bain triggered deep job cuts locally at a steel mill in Georgetown, S.C.

Then, with no apparent provocation, the Texas governor pivoted to demanding that Romney release his income tax returns, something the multi-millionaire has resisted throughout his political career.

“As Republicans, we cannot fire our nominee in September; we need to know now,” said Perry. “So, I hope you’ll put your tax records out there this week so the people of South Carolina can take a look and decide if, you know, we’ve got a flawed candidate or not.”

Romney batted away Gingrich, saying he appreciated the chance to speak about his job-creation record. After recapping his wins and losses at Bain, as head of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and as governor of Massachusetts, he added: “My record is out there, proud of it, and I think if team want to have someone who understand how the economy works, having worked in the real economy, that I’m the guy that can best post up against Barack Obama.”

Romney completely ignored Perry’s demand to release his income taxes, but later he was forced into an answer.

It was perhaps his most stereotypical moment of the night, offering an answer that sounded good but left him ample room for a later flip-flop.

“You know, if that’s been the tradition and I’m not opposed to doing that, time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period, and I’ll keep that open,” said Romney.

Pressed, Romney sounded supportive but still didn’t make a 100-percent commitment.

“I think I’ve heard enough from folks saying, ‘Look, let’s see your tax records.’ I have nothing in them that suggests there’s any problem and I’m happy to do so,” he said. “And if I become our nominee, and what’s happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year, and that’s probably what I would do.”

Santorum, meanwhile, laid a debate trap for Romney by criticizing an ad being run by a so-called super PAC that supports the former Massachusetts governor. It condemns Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, for favoring allowing felons to vote after they’ve served their sentence and any parole or probation

Assuming the role of moderator, Santorum asked Romney if he favored that idea.

“I don’t think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again,” said Romney.

Santorum leapt, noting that while Romney was governor, Massachusetts allowed felons to vote not only after their terms, but while they were still on parole or probation.

“What the governor said is he didn’t propose anything to change that law, and what he’s saying is that … I voted to allow felons to vote is inaccurate,” the former senator said.

Santorum said he would urge any super PAC supporting him to correct any inaccurate ad, a point that embarrassed Romney but may not have had much impact because voting rights for convicted felons is not a major political issue right now.

The senator also used a question abut the high poverty rate among black to not only bash the Obama administration but promote his pro-family views.

He vaulted from a supposed administration ban on providing marriage counseling to at-risk young women.

“The problem is neutrality ends in poverty, neutrality ends in choices that hurt people’s lives,” said Santorum. “This administration is deliberately telling organizations that are there to help young girls make good choices, not to tell them what the good choice is. That is absolutely unconscionable.”

Gingrich, meanwhile, turned questions about insensitivity in his recommendations to promote work within black communities to a soliloquy about personal responsibility.

It played well among the largely white debate audience; the question is how it will resonate among the broader electorate and minority communities.

“I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable,” the former House speaker said to cheers. “I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job.”

Perry, too, stoked the audience with aggressive condemnation of Washington in general and the Obama administration in particular.

Amid Santorum and Romney’s debate about the accuracy of the voting-felon ad, the Texan jump to his anti-Washington views by interjecting: “This is a great example of the insiders that are having the conversation up here. And the fact of the matter is this: Washington, D.C., needs to leave the states alone and let the states decide these issues, and don’t do it from Washington.”

Later, asked how he would address the country’s housing crisis, Perry said: “As the president of the United States, that’s what I’m going to do, is to walk into Washington, D.C., work towards a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, and try to pass a constitutional amendment, if the people will accept and work with me, to make Congress a part-time body, so they stay less time in Washington, D.C., they go back home and get a real job, like everybody else has, and live under the laws that they passed.”

Paul also espoused anti-government views, but he struggled when asked about his statement in Iowa saying he disagreed with the US operation to kill Osama bin Laden because it violated international law and sovereignty rights.

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