Elections 2012: Republican Candidates Launch Attacks Against Mitt Romney

The Republican presidential candidates came alive Sunday morning during their second debate in 12 hours, trading verbal blows and taking on frontrunner Mitt Romney in a way that had been expected the previous evening.

Two days before voters in the small New England state head to the polls for the first 2012 primary election, Romney took heat on a number of topics: his record as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, the attack ads run by an outside group on his behalf and a suggestion he would wither in the face of attacks from Democratic President Barack Obama. Photo: Michael Dumont Millhollin/Flickr

The Republican race for president splintered along two distinct tracks on Sunday, with all of the candidates who are not named Mitt Romney intensifying their attempts to derail the one who is. And all the while they kept their sights trained on one another as they try to emerge as his chief rival.

Although Romney’s win in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday was an eight-vote squeaker over Rick Santorum, backing it up with a win in New Hampshire would be a feat never achieved by a Republican candidate who is not an incumbent, adding to a sense of inevitability about his candidacy, according to Reuters.

Santorum, whose lackluster campaign caught fire in Iowa and who has pinned hopes more on the next contest in South Carolina, came out punching at Romney, even though he endorsed Romney in his 2008 run for the party’s nomination.

“If his record was so great as governor of Massachusetts, why didn’t he run for re-election,” said Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

Santorum accused Mr. Romney of lacking core convictions, as reported by The New York Times. “We want someone when the time gets tough — and it will in this election — who will stand up for conservative principles,” he said.

The Huff Post sugeests Jon Huntsman was the surprise of the morning. He seemed to connect during the NBC/Facebook debate, with his focus on restoring the trust of the American people.

He also drew Romney into an exchange in which Romney, as he had done Saturday night during the ABC debate, disparaged Huntsman’s 2009-10 service as U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama.

“This nation is divided,” Mr. Huntsman said, “because of attitudes like that.” He criticized Mr. Romney for his slogan “Believe in America,” saying: “How can you believe in America when you’re not willing to serve America? That’s just phony.”

It was Romney’s pettiest moment of the morning. At other points, however, he was able to fend off knocks from Gingrich and Santorum, who took aim at Romney in the debate’s first few moments.

“He wouldn’t stand up for conservative principles. He ran from Ronald Reagan,” Santorum said of Romney’s unsuccessful 1994 bid for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). “We want someone when the time gets tough … who’s going to stand up and fight for the conservative principles.”

Gingrich, hurt by a spate of negative ads organized by former Romney staffers, said Romney would “have a very hard time getting elected” and had policy positions that are not sufficiently different from Obama.

“There’s a huge difference between a Reagan conservative and somebody who comes out of the Massachusetts culture who essentially has a moderate record,” Gingrich said during the NBC/Facebook debate in Concord, New Hampshire.

Gingrich bristled at Romney’s attempts to paint himself as a reluctant politician. “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?” he quipped. “You were running for president while you were governor.”

Mr. Gingrich also attacked Mr. Romney’s tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital, accusing him of pillaging companies and cutting jobs to enrich himself and his colleagues. He compared him unfavorably with two other presidential candidates from Massachusetts: former Gov. Michael Dukakis and Senator John Kerry, both Democrats who were defeated.

The Suffolk University/7 News poll showed Romney’s support in New Hampshire down to 35 percent from 43 percent last Tuesday, although Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was still double digits away at 20 percent.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was surging in the survey to third place, with 11 percent. And former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) was also moving backwards to 8 percent, down from 11 percent just two days ago. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was at 9 percent.

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