The five remaining candidates seeking the U.S. Republican party?s nomination for president met Monday evening in the eastern coastal state of South Carolina, just days before voters there participate in the next primary election. Although the debate touched on a wide range of issues from the U.S. economy, unemployment and foreign policy, several of the candidates used the stage to focus their attacks on the front-runner in the race, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Romney's business record
Republican candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry attacked Mitt Romney?s business record and urged voters to take a closer look at his firm, Bain Capital, a venture capital company that bought companies and tried to make them more competitive.
Speaking during the debate, which was hosted by Fox News, Gingrich argued that in some cases, the companies Bain Capital bought ended up with enormous debt or ended up going broke.
?The governor has every opportunity to answer those questions, to give us facts and data and I think that is part of his responsibility as a candidate," he said. "And I think that is part of what a campaign is about, is to raise questions and see whether or not your competitor can answer them effectively before you get to the general elections where you know those questions are going to be asked.?
Just hours before the debate began, Republican candidate and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman stepped out of the race, narrowing the field from six to five. And, despite his attacks in the past on Romney, Huntsman put his support behind the front-runner.
The four other remaining candidates in the race, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Gingrich are trying to slow Romney?s momentum before Saturday?s vote in South Carolina. Political analysts and even Gingrich, himself, have said that if Romney wins this week?s vote, he is likely to become the party?s nominee for president.
Texas Governor Rick Perry noted that in the state of South Carolina, Bain Capital came in and bought a steel mill and a lot of people lost jobs. Jobs are a particularly pressing issue in South Carolina, where the unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent is higher than the national average.
Perry also pressed Romney to release his income tax records, noting that he has already done so and that he believes Newt Gingrich will do so as well later this week.
"We need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money," said Perry.
Romney responded to the income tax request by saying that he had nothing in them that was a problem and that he might do so in a few months.
As for his record at Bain Capital, Romney says he was proud of the fact that his company invested in well over a 100 businesses.
?Four of the companies that we invested in, they weren?t businesses I ran, but we invested in, ended up today having some 120,000 jobs," said Romney. "Some of the businesses we invested in weren?t successful and lost jobs.?
South Carolina polls
The latest polling in South Carolina shows Romney with a strong lead. And, a new national public opinion poll released Monday by CNN and ORC International, shows Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Ron Paul tied with President Barack Obama if the November election were held today.
According to the survey, 48 percent say they would vote for Romney and 47 percent say they would support President Obama?s bid for re-election. In the poll, pitting Ron Paul against Obama, 48 percent say they would support the president and 46 percent say they would support congressman Paul.