(Photo: Reuters / Shannon Stapleton)
The starting gate is open and Republican presidential hopefuls, both declared and soon-to-be declared, are off and running.
In a bold and feisty move, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota took the opportunity to announce on Monday to a national audience she filed papers earlier in the day for an “exploratory committee,” which is the first step candidates must officially take to run for the presidency.
The debate in New Hampshire produced few surprises, but did give viewers and analyst a glimpse into the personalities and priorities of the seven who participated. Issues relating to the economy and recent recession were discussed at length, but the candidates' positions on social issues drew both distinctions and differences between the seven who participated.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney escaped what could have been a significant challenge to his former pro-choice abortion stance by he is now “pro-life.” When CNN moderator John King gave the other candidates an opportunity to question Romney’s change of heart, none seized the chance and all agreed his prior abortion stance was “no longer an issue.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum emphasized his abortion position by saying, “I’ve not only taken a position, but I’ve taken a bullet for the pro-life movement.”
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty remarked he was the “most pro-life candidate in the race,” highlighting his pro-life record while governor. None of the other candidates called into question Pawlenty’s position of saying his one abortion exception would be “rape or incest.”
Bachmann said she was “100 percent pro-life” and has given birth to five children and fostered 23 others.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who as a physician delivered over 4,000 babies, thinks the federal government should not be involved in the issue. In a YouTube debate in November of 2007, Paul said “The first thing we need to do is get the federal government our of it. We don’t need a federal abortion police.”
The remaining candidates did not appear eager to tackle the abortion issue and simply said they were pro-life.
CNN’s King asked the candidates if elected president, would any of the them use their leverage to change a state’s definition of marriage, or would they address the issue by advocating for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
There was little difference between the candidates on this issue with most favoring a constitutional amendment approach. To no one’s surprise, Paul said the government should “get out of the marriage business,” and leave the issue to the church.
Former pizza executive Herman Cain, who came off as polished and presidential, said he preferred leaving the issue to each individual state.
DON’T ASK DON’T TELL (DADT)
In 2010, President Obama signed a law repealing what is known as the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of openly allowing homosexuals to serve in the nations military.
Both Cain and Paul said they would not overturn DADT, with Paul saying no group should have “special rights.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Pawlenty said they would take advice from their joint chiefs of staff.
Romney’s position was DADT should have been in place until our foreign conflicts were over, but did not explain his stance on the issue in times of peace.
Bachmann said she would definitely keep DADT in place.
Santorum said the military should “not be for social experimentation.”
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
The debate produced some lighter moments and insight into the candidate’s personalities when CNN moderator John King asked for a one-word response to his question. Here are a few of their responses.
Santorum – Leno or Connan? “Neither.”
Cain – Deep dish or thin crust? “Definitely deep dish.”
Romney – Spicy or mild? “Spicy”
Bachmann – Elvis or Johnny Cash? “Both”
Pawlenty – Coke or Pepsi? “Coke”
Romney, who in recent polls is viewed as the frontrunner, likely preserved that coveted spot by not fumbling on major issues and not having to address challenges to his prior position on abortion. According to most pundits, Romney “looked the most presidential.” Some said Pawlenty missed his opportunity to challenge Romney on both abortion and health care.
According to political analyst Mike Bayham, “Newt came off like the cantankerous professor he is and Paul clearly lacked the vigor needed to win a presidential election.”
The debate left viewers curious about who was not on the platform – namely Jon Huntsman, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry – all of whom are giving signals they will be making decisions in the near future.