Contenders for the Republican party's presidential nomination faced off in California, Wednesday evening, covering issues ranging from health care to border security. The debaters included the front-runners in the party's selection process for the 2012 election, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Amid gloomy economic figures and polling data that shows Americans are losing confidence, Mitt Romney zeroed in on the key issue of the campaign.
“People are worried about whether they can make [pay] their bills at the end of the month. A lot of folks have stopped looking for work. People who have jobs are worried they might lose their jobs," he said. "Look, we have a crisis in confidence, in part, because we have an absence of leadership."
The eight candidates took to the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, as former first lady Nancy Reagan looked on from the audience. Governor Perry pointed to his record creating jobs in Texas, and Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman also highlighted their job-creating record, each claiming that his experience combining politics and business qualified him for the job of president.
The candidates also tried to differentiate their positions on issues that divide conservatives and moderates within the Republican party, including the Social Security public pension system and climate change. Mitt Romney is a moderate on both issues. He says Social Security is troubled and needs to become solvent, but insists that it is important to older Americans.
Governor Perry is a skeptic on climate change and has called Social Security a ponzi scheme, that is, a fraudulent scheme that fleeces investors. He admits that his language is provocative.
“Maybe it's time to have some provocative language in this country and say things like, 'Let's get America working again and do whatever it takes to make that happen',” Perry stated.
Michele Bachmann, a conservative member of Congress from Minnesota and the only woman on the stage, targeted President Barack Obama's health care plan, which would expand medical coverage and require Americans to purchase health insurance. Republicans have assailed the plan as expensive, a job-killer and an infringement on personal liberties.
“This is the issue of 2012, together with jobs. This is our window of opportunity," she said. "If we fail to repeal Obamacare in 2012, it will be with us forever and it will be socialized medicine.”
Mitt Romney said his business experience would help in trade relations with China. Jon Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China under President Obama, said he would focus on improving the U.S. economy.
“What will fix the U.S.-China relationship realistically is fixing our core, right here at home, because our core is weak and it is broken," Huntsman noted. "And, we have no leverage at the negotiating table.”
Former congressman and speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich chided reporters for highlighting the differences among Republicans.
“I for one and I hope all of my friends up here are going repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated, and all of us are committed as a team, whoever the nominee is, we are all for defeating Barack Obama,” Gingrich stated.
And, Gingrich reiterated that the issue leading to election victory is jobs.
The debate was sponsored by NBC Television and the website Politico, and was broadcast live on a national cable television network.