Romney Stays Above the Fray, Others Squabble for Second Place


MANCHESTER, N.H. (Jan. 7., 2012) — Ron Paul and Rick Santorum battled for second place in the New Hampshire debate Saturday night.

Texas Rep. Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum spent the better part of an hour taking digs at each other. Paul and former House speaker Newt Gingrich also sparred over serving the country, with Paul getting in the last word. Paul chastised Gingrich for not serving in the Vietnam war.

“When I was drafted,” said Paul, “I was married and had two kids, and I went.”

Mitt Romney was largely left untouched during the debate.  Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the last to arrive in New Hampshire, was largely ignored during the debate.

Saturday’s debate was sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo News and the ABC affiliate in Manchester, WMUR-TV. The debate was at Saint Anselm College. The moderators were ACB’s Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos and WMUR-TV’s Josh McElveen.

For frontrunning Romney, the debate solidified his campaign, as attention was diverted away from him and onto other candidates.  After the other candidates began campaigning, the most recent polls showed Romney dropping from 43 to 40 percent. Last week Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, won the Iowa caucuses by an 8-vote margin.

During the debate, Romney spoke extensively of his private sector experience and how it would help him in the Oval Office. “I think people who spend their life in Washington don’t understand what happens out in the real economy,” he said.

Coming off a surprise second-place showing in Iowa, Santorum climbed 8 percentage points in the latest New Hampshire poll from Suffolk University.  Santorum is now third in the New Hampshire polls. While in New Hampshire, Santorum gained national media attention for sparing with students at the New England College Convention 2012 about gay marriage rights.

Gingrich falls in the middle of the Suffolk poll at 9 percent. Gingrich finished fourth in Iowa, with 13 percent of the vote. He has brought a larger staff to New Hampshire and is expanding even more in South Carolina in hopes of gaining more momentum.

During the week in New Hampshire, Gingrich joked that Romney was a Massachusetts moderate and urged voters not to ‘mass up’ on election day. In the debate, Gingrich criticized the United States’ dependence on Saudi Arabia for oil and energy. “I would have an energy program designed to get us free from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela,” he said. He was not specific on his plan.

In the Suffolk University poll on New Hampshire voters, Paul is second, at 17 percent. Paul waited until Jan. 6 to arrive, after most of the major candidates had been campaigning hard. In his first appearance, he pitched his libertarian and conservative views to young crowds of supporters and undecideds. He has been under fire for old racist commentaries in his newsletter, which he has denied writing and knowing about. He rejected that controversy in the debate.

“So concentrating on something that was written 20 years ago that I didn’t write, you know, is diverting the attention from most of the important issues,” he said.

During the debate, Paul also appealed to minorities  and said he understands true racism. For example, the justice system is racist, he said, and blacks and minorities are arrested on drug charges and sentenced to death more often than whites.

Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor, has focused most of his campaign in New Hampshire. He has had more than 150 public events in the state. This week, Hunstman won a straw poll from the college convention and also gained the endorsement of the Boston Globe, Massachusett’s dominant paper. Hunstman is standing at 8 percent in the Suffolk poll.

In the debate, Huntsman frequently cited his experience as governor. Learning how to pay the bills as a governor would be beneficial to him as president, he said. And in the global economy, he said, he would have an advantage because he speaks Mandarin. He was the U.S. ambassador to China.

“I think I understand better than anyone on this stage, the complex national security implications that we will face going forward with what is, we all know, the most complex and challenging relationship of the twenty-first century, that of China,” he said.

Perry was the last to arrive in New Hampshire, coming just hours before the debate. He has focused his attention on South Carolina this week, which has hurt him in the Suffolk poll. He stands at 1 percent there. Perry finished fifth in Iowa. He had taken several days off to return to Texas and reassess his campaign.

In the debate, Perry focused on his ‘outsider’ status as a benefit to him and a detriment from the rest of the candidates. “I am the only outsider with possible exception of Jon Huntsman who has not been part of the problem in D.C.,” Perry said.

(Meghin Delaney, a junior with double majors in magazine journalism and political science, is covering the New Hampshire primary for The Lowell Sun.)

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