Republican presidential candidates vowed to slash taxes, shrink government and defeat US President Barack Obama as they jousted for position in a televised debate ahead of a crucial test vote in Iowa.
None of the eight candidates emerged as the clear winner in the Fox television debate, held late Thursday, two days before the Iowa straw poll which is traditionally the start of a process of winnowing the field of contenders.
“There weren’t any losers. Nobody made big mistakes. They all did themselves well,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
The uncertain state of the US economy and deep ideological divisions over how to fix it provided the backdrop for the debate.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota opened by insisting that “we should not have increased the debt ceiling” and declaring that Obama will be a “one-term president.”
A bitter, long-running fight in Congress over lifting the US debt ceiling brought the US to the brink of default earlier this month, contributing to a downgrade in the US credit rating from “AAA” to “AA+.”
However, Bachmann appeared to take the subsequent market havoc as proof that leading the charge against raising the debt ceiling “turned out to be the right answer.”
Frontrunner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, slammed Obama for making it harder for businesses to create jobs and said regulations and corporate taxes need to be cut.
“If you spend your life in the private sector and understand how jobs come and go, you understand that what President Obama has done is the opposite of what the economy needed,” Romney said.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who has struggled to overcome perceptions that he is dull and to draw more than about 3 percent support in recent polls, took sharp stabs at Bachmann, Romney and Obama.
He attacked Bachmann’s record in Congress, saying that while she fought for less government spending the nation got more. “If that’s your view of effective leadership with results, please stop because you’re killing us,” he said.
Bachmann shot back: “You said the era of small government is over. That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama, if you ask me.”
The biggest surprise was that there were not more jabs at Romney, Yepsen said. “Nobody really laid a glove on him,” he said.
Meanwhile, Obama’s Democrats are working to paint the entire slate as extremists with a new ad campaign highlighting positions they say “would end Medicare as we know it” and approve “more tax giveaways to millionaires, billionaires and the special interests.”
“What I’m curious about is whether or not anyone participating in the debate tonight will have any concrete proposals for growing the economy and creating jobs that aren’t retread ideas that didn’t work in the past,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday as Obama flew to Michigan to tout his green energy jobs plan.
Two as-yet undeclared — but highly popular — contenders could end up stealing the spotlight.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to finally throw his cowboy hat into the ring at a speech in South Carolina today and flies to Iowa for a fundraiser in the city of Waterloo tomorrow.
Perry is not officially on the straw poll ballot, but could win a strong showing at little cost thanks to a write-in campaign by supporters.