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    Republican Presidential Contenders Hold First Major Debate

    Republican presidential hopefuls at the beginning of the first New Hampshire debate of the 2012 campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire June 13, 2011
    Republican presidential hopefuls at the beginning of the first New Hampshire debate of the 2012 campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire June 13, 2011

    Seven Republicans who would like the chance to defeat President Barack Obama in next year’s presidential election held their first major debate Monday in the early contest state of New Hampshire.

    Coming into this first major debate of the 2012 campaign season, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is seen by many as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and he continues to lead in public opinion polls.

    Romney wasted little time in going after President Obama’s economic record.

    “He didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse and longer," said Romney. "This president has failed and he has failed at a time when the American people counted on him to create jobs and get the economy going.”

    One of Romney’s leading rivals is former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty who criticized President Obama as what he called an economic “declinist”.

    “If China can have five percent growth and Brazil can have five percent growth, then the United States of America can have five percent growth and I don’t accept this notion that we are going to be average or anemic,” said Pawlenty.

    Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich also hammered away at President Obama’s handling of the economy.

    “The Obama administration is anti-jobs, anti-business, anti-American energy.  They [Congress] ought to start creating jobs right now for those 14 million Americans [out of work]," said Gingrich. "This is a depression now.”

    Gingrich has vowed to remain in the campaign despite a mass walkout by his senior campaign staff last week.

    Monday’s debate also featured an announcement from Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann that she is now an official candidate for president.

    Bachmann vowed to repeal President Obama’s health care reform law, as did many of the other contenders, and urged Republicans to unite behind a nominee next year.

    “We need everybody to come together because we are going to win, make no mistake about it," said Bachmann. "And, President Obama is a one term president!”

    Although much of the debate focused on the domestic economy, foreign policy issues were discussed, including U.S. support for NATO efforts in Libya, which several of the candidates oppose.

    “He has turned his back on American allies and he has embraced our enemies,” said former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

    Georgia businessman Herman Cain also took part in the debate, as did Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the only Republican contender who favors the pullout of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

    The candidates also discussed immigration, abortion and energy issues.

    Throughout the evening, the seven Republicans kept up their attacks on President Obama’s economic record, especially the high unemployment rate that now stands at 9.1 percent.

    Obama is well aware that improving the jobs picture is central to his re-election hopes next year and he made that clear again Monday during an economic speech in North Carolina.

    “I will not be satisfied until everyone who wants a good job that offers some security has a good job that offers security,” he said.

    Among those Republicans who were not at Monday’s debate but who could still join the presidential field are former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

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