Republican presidential hopefuls have descended on the central U.S. state of Iowa to prepare for the first test of their popularity with voters. The Iowa Straw Poll on August 13 could give the winning candidate momentum heading into the 2012 presidential campaign. A televised debate ahead of the poll gave the eight participating candidates an opportunity to give voters insight into how they would lead the country.
Months of political debate over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, followed by a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's, and capped by a volatile week on Wall Street, all led to a theme throughout the Republican Presidential debate in Ames Iowa - how to fix the U.S. economy.
The debate was broadcast Thursday on the Fox News Channel. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination, blamed President Barack Obama for the country's economic crisis.
“The most important thing we are talking about tonight is making sure that President Obama is replaced by someone who knows how to get this economy going again. That’s what this debate is really about and that is what Americans want to understand,” he said.
Romney shared the stage with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, businessman Herman Cain, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
“We just heard from Standard & Poor's. When they dropped our credit rating what they said is we don’t have the ability to repay our debt. That’s what the final word was from them. I was proved right in my position. We should have not raised the debt ceiling,” said Bachmann.
Some of the other topics discussed throughout the two-hour debate included the candidates' attitudes towards health care legislation, and the execution of the war on terrorism.
Questions about Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon led to a heated exchange between Santorum and Congressman Paul.
“Iran does not have an air force that can come here," said Paul. They can’t even make enough gasoline for themselves, and here we are building up this case like - just like we did in Iraq! Build up the war propaganda. There was no al-Qaida in Iraq, and they had nuclear weapons and we had to go in, and I’m sure that you supported that war as well! It’s time we quit this. It’s trillions of dollars we are spending on these wars!"
About halfway through the debate, candidates were asked about someone not present, but widely expected to join the race in the coming days.
Texas Governor Rick Perry could be a formidable candidate who can potentially appeal to social and economic conservatives. He also has a strong record growing jobs while governor. Surveys found most Republican primary voters plan to support Romney, with Perry next in line.
Regardless of who emerges as the front-runner, retiree Bruce Woods from Urbandale Iowa wants a nominee who can bridge the current divide between the two political parties.
“I think what we’re going to have to do is somehow figure out a way to compromise on both sides and get things back in order,” he said.
Des Moines attorney and former candidate for Iowa state treasurer Joan Bolin agrees. She supported John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, but has not decided who she will support in 2012.
“I think that one of the problem’s that we have is that we’ve basically lost middle ground. We’ve lost too many of the moderates. I’m a moderate, can you tell? We have lost them and they actually were glue,” she said.
Politics runs in Bolin’s family. Her grandfather, Ben Jensen, served as a congressman from Iowa for 26 years.
“And although he was a Republican and I was a Democrat as a young person, basically he worked very hard to keep people working together. And that I think is something we ought to look for in anyone we elect,” said Jensen.
While many likely Republican voters are dissatisfied with the current list of candidates for president, Governor Rick Perry’s entrance into the race, and a potential second run at the White House by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, could give those dissatisfied voters other options heading into the primary election season.