Mitt Romney Again Leads in GOP Presidential Debate

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney largely ignored his presidential rivals at a debate on Tuesday, casting himself as the candidate most suited to rescue the economy and lead the party back to the White House.

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney greets onlookers as he enters the Spaulding Auditorium at Dartmouth College, prior to Tuesday night's Republican primary debate. The debate was put on by Bloomberg News and The Washington Post. Photo: BU Interactive News/Flickr

The debate, sponsored by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post, was the seventh in the Republican race for the White House and came three months before the first voting in the Republican race.

The debate turned into another sterling debate performance from Romney, who once again looked far more presidential than anyone else onstage. During the portion of the debate in which the candidates asked each other questions, rivals like Herman Cain and Rick Perry took direct aim at him.

Romney hit back hard at Perry, leaving him looking like a schoolboy with his hand caught in the candy jar, and suggested Cain’s claim that Romney’s economic plan was too complicated showed Cain didn’t understand the complicated nature of the economy.

Romney was one of eight candidates in the debate on economic issues. But he rarely engaged with rivals like Texas Governor Rick Perry, and he reminded independents in moderateNew Hampshireof his own success at working with Democrats.

Pressed about his past support for Wall Street bailouts, Romney presented them as a necessary but unfortunate task.

“Action had to be taken,” he said of the 2008 bailouts. “Was it perfect? No. Was it well implemented? No, not particularly. Were there some institutions that should not have been bailed out? Absolutely.”

Romney said he would label China a currency manipulator and pursue them for stealing intellectual property, but Republican Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador toChina, warned of a trade war.

Cain was on the defensive for the first time during the debate Wednesday, defending himself against moderators and rivals who afforded him increased scrutiny due to his increased standing in the polls. And while it wasn’t a terrible performance by Cain by any means, he spent too much time harping on his 9-9-9 plan – missing an opportunity to put to rest concerns that he lacks the knowledge for the job.

“9-9-9 is bold, and the American people want a bold solution, not just what’s going to kick the can down the road,” he said.

Several candidates also turned their fire on surging candidate Herman Cain’s “999” plan to scrap the federal tax code and replace it with a flat 9 percent tax on corporations, income and sales.

Critics said the tax would open up more opportunities for the federal government to start new revenue streams.

“We’re not going to give the federal government … a new pipeline, a 9 percent sales tax for consumers to get hammered by the federal government,” former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum said. “How many people believe that we’ll keep the income tax at 9 percent? Anybody?”

Rick Perry was virtually invisible for the first half of the debate, getting little attention from moderators – a demoralizing state of affairs for a man who just one month ago was seen as the frontrunner for the nomination. TheTexasgovernor improved over the course of the debate, offering a strong closing statement, but there was no momentum-changing moment he could build off to reverse his slide in the polls.

“We have got to have a president who is willing to stand up and to clearly pull back those regulations that are strangling the American entrepreneurship that’s out there,” Perry said, rejecting charges from Romney about failing to produce an economic plan.

“Mitt has had six years to be working on a plan. I have been in this for about eight weeks,” said Perry, who will release his economic plan on Friday.

Several of the Republican candidates attacked theU.S.government and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for mismanaging the struggling economy.

“I think if you look at the problem with the economic meltdown, you can trace it right back to the federal government,” U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann said.

“It was the federal government that demanded that banks and mortgage companies lower platinum level lending standards to new lows,” she said. “It was the federal government that pushed the subprime loans.” [via Reuters and CBS]

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