Mitt Romney took some hits early on in this morning’s Republican presidential debate this morning in Concord, New Hampshire. Taking the stage just ten hours after their last debate Saturday night, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum tag teamed Mr. Romney characterizing him as a career politician with several failed campaigns and a moderate record.
“What Republicans have to ask is who’s most likely, in the long run, to survive against the kind of billion dollar campaign the Obama team is gonna run?” Mr. Gingrich asked. “And I think that a bold Reagan conservative with a very strong economic plan is a lot more likely to succeed in that campaign than a relatively timid Massachusetts moderate who even The Wall Street Journal said had an economic plan so timid it resembled Obama.”
Mr. Gingrich said he doubts Mr. Romney would do well in a debate with President Obama.
“Massachusetts was fourth from the bottom in job creation under Governor Romney. I– we created 11 million jobs while I was Speaker,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I just think– there’s a huge difference between a Reagan conservative and somebody who comes out of the Massachusetts culture with an essentially moderate record, who I think will have a very hard time in a debate with
Mr. Romney defended himself saying he’s “very proud” of his record as governor of Massachusetts.
“The one thing you can’t fool the people about New Hampshire about is the record of a governor next door. And people have watched me over my term as governor, and saw that I was a solid conservative and that I brought important change to Massachusetts,” said Mr. Romney.
Mr. Santorum piled on, criticizing Mr. Romney for not running for a second gubernatorial term.
“Well, if his record was so great as Governor of Massachusetts, why didn’t you run for reelection?” Mr. Santorum asked Mr. Romney. “I mean, if you didn’t want to even stand before the people of Massachusetts and run on your record, if it was that great, why didn’t you– why did you bail out? I mean the bottom– the bottom line is– you know, I– I go and fight the fight.”
Mr. Santorum also brought up Mr. Romney’s 1994 Senate bid against the late Mr. Kennedy where he described Mr. Romney as running “to the left of Kennedy.” Mr. Santorum contrasted this to his campaigns for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat where he claimed to have ”fought for the conservative principles.”
“I didn’t do what Governor Romney did in 1994. I was running the same year he ran in 1994. I ran in a tough state of Pennsylvania against an incumbent,” Mr. Santorum said. “Governor Romney lost by almost 20 points. Why? Because at the end of that campaign he wouldn’t stand up for conservative principles. He ran for Ronald Reagan and he said he was going to be to the left of Kennedy on gay rights and abortion, a whole host of other issues. We want someone when the time gets tough– and it will in this election, we want someone who’s gonna stand up and fight for the conservative principles, not bail out and not run–and not run to the left of Ted Kennedy.
Mr. Romney argued he didn’t run for a second term as Governor of Massachusetts because he “didn’t go there to begin a political career.”
“I think it’s unusual, and–and perhaps understandable, that people who spend their life in politics imagine that if you get in politics, that that’s all you wanna do. That if you’ve been elected to something, well, you get–want to get re-elected and re-elected,” Mr Romney said.
Mr. Gingrich called Mr. Romney’s answer “pious baloney.”
“Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney? The fact is you ran in ’94 and lost. That’s why you weren’t serving in the Senate with Rick Santorum,” Mr. Gingrich said.
Mr. Gingrich also attributed Mr. Romney’s inability to secure a second term as governor to a “very bad re-election rating” caused by constant campaigning for the 2008 presidential race.:
“The fact is you had a very bad reelection rating. You dropped out of office. You had been out of state for something like 200 days preparing to run for president. You didn’t have this interlude of citizenship while you thought about what to do. You were running for president while you were governor. You were gone all over the country. You were– you were out of state consistently. You then promptly reentered politics. You happened to lose to McCain as you had lost to Kennedy. Now you’re back running. You’ve been running consistently for years and years and years. So this idea that suddenly citizenship showed up in your mind, just level with the American people. You’ve been running for at least since the 1990s. ”
Mr. Romney countered by saying he got into politics because of a desire to battle the “liberal welfare state.”
“I never thought I’d get involved in politics,” Mr. Romney said. “When I saw Ted Kennedy running virtually unopposed in 1994, a man who I thought by virtue of the policies of the liberal welfare state had created a permanent under-class in America, I said, ‘Someone’s gotta run against him.’”
Though he never though he had a “ghost of a chance” to beat Mr. Kennedy in 1994, Mr. Romney said he’s glad he “stood up”–and that he cost Mr. Kennedy money.
“A Republican from Massachusetts was not going beat Ted Kennedy,” Mr. Romney said. “I went in and gave it a real battle and went after it. It was–I was happy that he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me. And I’m–I’m–I’m very proud of the fact that I have stood up as a citizen to battle where I felt it was best for the nation.”
According to the latest tracking polls, Mr. Romney is currently leading at 35 percent. His nearest competitor, Ron Paul is fifteen points behind him at 20 percent. However, in spite of Mr. Romney’s lead, he has dropped eight percentage points since last Tuesday and shed four points overnight.