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Claws come out in Republican debate ahead of Iowa poll

Eight Republican candidates for presidential nomination clashed bitterly Thursday night in a fiery debate that reportedly saw each trying to set themselves apart from the GOP pack ahead of an Iowa test vote. 

While previous Republican debates have been exceedingly polite, according to the Iowa State Daily, “the struggle to find a frontrunner for the party drew candidates’ claws out onstage Thursday evening.”

According to the the Kansas City Star:

The two Minnesotans in the contest lashed out at each other, with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty accusing Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., of having no record of accomplishment in Congress. “Nonexistent,” he sneered. Bachmann shot back that Pawlenty was just another version of Obama.

As they fought, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defended his record as an investment banker whose businesses often cut jobs, and as a governor who once boasted of tax increases while arguing for a bond rating upgrade for his state.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich lashed out at questions about turmoil in his own campaign. “Mickey Mouse,” he called the questions.

Bachmann seemed to have a particularly rough ride, attacked for her policy stances on several fronts from multiple candidates and forced to defend her friendship with as-yet non-candidate Sarah Palin.

After returning to her podium onstage at Iowa State University later than the others after a commercial break, she was asked if Palin, whose One Nation tour bus is headed for Iowa, is “stealing her thunder.”

The State Daily wrote of the incident that: 

Bachmann insisted that Palin is her friend, but the question and its answer — along with the fact that no men were asked if the former Alaska governor was stealing their thunder — was reminiscent of the “three-way calling attack” scene in “Mean Girls.”

Other highlights, according to the LA Times, included the foreign policy section of the debate, during which Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum “got into a tussle over Iran, which Paul doesn’t think merits all the hand-wringing and worry it inspires.”

On social issues, including the “moralities and legalities of same-sex marriage — everyone supports traditional marriage, but Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also likes civil unions.

Huntsman, however, used the debate “to further distance himself from the ‘moderate’ label he’s often been stuck with,” the Iowa State Daily reports.

At one point, he was asked if he is running on the wrong ticket. He did, however, maintain his support for civil unions — a bold move in the current GOP field.

Santorum, for his part, railed against Iran for the way it “tramples the rights of women, tramples the rights of gays, tramples the rights of people,” but then similarly denounced the way Iowa’s Supreme Court justices “forced” gay marriage on the state.

Gingrich, meantime, asked by moderator Chris Wallace why his “campaign is a mess so far,” and reputedly $1 million in debt, said that “even Ronald Reagan and John McCain had staff defections,” the LA Times reports. 

During the two-hour debate, the eight candidates also focused on President Barack Obama and the nation’s teetering economic situation, with frontrunner Mitt Romney saying Obama’s compromise legislation to raise the debt was not what he would have done.

“I’m not going to eat Barack Obama’s dog food,” he said, AP reports, the subtext apparently being that he has the answers Obama lacks — especially when it comes to repairing the U.S. economy.

“Herman Cain and I are the two onstage who have actually worked in the real economy,” he said.

Cain, former chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, for his part continued to express concerns with Sharia law entering the United States, “but clarified that he does not have a problem with Romney’s Mormonism,” the Iowa State Daily reports.

He could not say the same for the people of Atlanta, however, saying people in the south worry Mormonism may not relate to more mainstream religions.

Meantime, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a presence in coverage, despite not invited to the debate as he has not formally declared his candidacy. He is expected to do so in a campaign in a speech Saturday in South Carolina, before sweeping into Iowa on Sunday.

He has also been left off the ballot for the Iowa straw poll Saturday.

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