(Photo: Reuters/Eric Gay)
Seven Republican candidates faced off for the 13th time against each other Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa, in what will most likely be the last time they all stand on the same stage together. While the debate produced little drama, it did give voters an indication of their campaign strategies leading up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sat atop several Iowa polls. But his lead has diminished since former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul have launched a barrage of radio and television ads attacking Gingrich on a number of key issues – the most important being his ability to defeat President Obama next November.
Yet Gingrich was undeterred in the debate. “Barrack Obama will not have a leg to stand on in trying to defend a record that is terrible and ideology that is radical,” said the former House Speaker.
But Gingrich had to play defense during a crucial five-minute segment as he found himself backed into a corner by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann over his relationship with Freddie Mac.
“We cannot have as our nominee someone who continues to stand with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae,” said Bachmann. “It’s the fact that we know he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac; that’s the best evidence you can have.”
Bachmann insisted Gingrich was nothing less than a paid lobbyist for the government controlled mortgage entity, forcing Gingrich to spend valuable time defending his 2007 relationship that netted over $1 million in consulting fees.
“I was a private citizen engaged in a business like any other business,” Gingrich said in response to what he termed as Bachmann’s “wild allegations.”
Meanwhile, Gingrich was not the only opponent Bachmann had in her sights as she went after her House colleague Ron Paul on his controversial stances on foreign policy.
Paul, who is known for his brash and farfetched foreign policy views, may have lost momentum by saying that he would not go to war with Iran even if there was proof the country had developed nuclear weapons.
“My fear is it’s another Iraq coming,” Paul said on the day the U.S. pulled out of Iraq. “There’s a lot of war propaganda going on.”
Bachmann, who was continuing in her aggressive attacks, responded aggressively to Paul’s comments.
“I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one we just heard from Ron Paul,” said Bachmann. “The reason why I would say that is because we know without a shadow of a doubt that Iran will take a nuclear weapon. They will use it to wipe our friend Israel off the map, and they would use it against the United States of America.”
The crowd booed Paul and cheered Bachmann after their tense exchange had ended.
And the final debate before the Iowa caucuses produced some lighter moments as well.
Perry, who like Bachmann is desperately seeking to gain lost ground in the polls, compared his candidacy to Tim Tebow, the popular Denver Broncos quarterback who is known for his solid Christian beliefs and more recently, his come-from-behind wins.
Hoping to allay some fears about his debate performance against President Barack Obama if he were to become the GOP nominee, he said, "There are a lot of folks who said Tim Tebow wasn't going to be a very good NFL quarterback ... Am I ready for the next level? .... I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses."
Comments and responses to Perry’s Tebow comparison prompted many pundits to fire off responses on Twitter.
“Perry – talking Tebow, talking terribly,” tweeted University of Virginia political policy analyst Kyle Kondik.
Yet in keeping with his idea to reduce the size of government, Perry once more advocated for a part-time Congress, suggesting they only meet every other year as the Texas legislature does.
In the latest Rasmussen poll taken prior to the debate, Romney held a slim lead with 23 percent, followed by Gingrich at 20 and Paul at 18 percent. Perry and Bachmann followed with 10 and 9 percent, respectively.