Fireworks Erupt At GOP Debate - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Fireworks Erupt At GOP Debate

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM/AMES, IOWA –The Republican presidential primary debate provided plenty of fireworks Thursday night, a stark contrast to the two more sleepy affairs earlier this year. Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty took off the gloves and threw several punches at one another. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum nearly screamed at each other over whether to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And Newt Gingrich didn't like some of the questions thrown his way, which he angrily denounced as "Mickey Mouse games."

The key exchanges were between Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota, and Pawlenty, Minnesota's former governor, who are in a battle to see who can come out ahead of the other in a key straw poll vote Saturday in Ames.

For weeks, the two had been bashing one another, mostly on the campaign trail here in Iowa. Bachmann has claimed the title of Iowa frontrunner, while Pawlenty has been playing catch up in advance of Saturday's straw poll. Fox News' Chris Wallace was quick to give the two an opportunity to fight it out in person.

Pawlenty, whose argument has been that he has the executive experience as a governor that Bachmann lacks, said the congresswoman has "done wonderful things in her life, absolutely wonderful things, but it's an indisputable fact that in Congress her record of accomplishments and results is nonexistent. That's not going to be good enough."

As Pawlenty, whose fiber was questioned after he failed to take on Mitt Romney in the last debate, delivered his rebuke, he turned to face Bachmann, but turned away after a few moments. Bachmann, in her response, faced Pawlenty the entire time she spoke. She blasted his record as governor.

"Governor, when you were governor in Minnesota, you implemented cap and trade in our state, and you praised the unconstitutional individual mandate, and you called for requiring all people in our state to purchase health insurance," she said. She also dinged him for saying in 2006 that "the era of small government is over."

"That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama if you ask me," she said as Pawlenty shook his head.

The two went back and forth for a few more minutes, with Bachmann lauding her own record of fighting Democratic proposals, such as President Obama's health care overhaul as well as cap and trade legislation. But Pawlenty, growing more animated, said that she had failed to stop the health care bill, as well as increases in spending and the 2008 bailout of Wall Street banks, which was actually implemented under Republican President George W. Bush.

"She said she's got a titanium spine. It's not your spine we're worried about, it's your record of results," Pawlenty said. "If that's your view of effective results and leadership, then please stop because you're killing us."

The two sparred again minutes later over a cigarette tax passed in 2005 that Bachmann voted in favor of and Pawlenty signed. Bachmann said she voted for it only because it was attached to an anti-abortion measure. She accused Pawlenty of cutting deals with special interests, while Pawlenty said her statements were "illogical."

Moments after each exchange, Bachmann campaign staff circulated through the press room, handing out detailed press releases attacking Pawlenty's record and detailing why Bachmann voted for the cigarette tax.

Clearly, Bachmann was prepared for the incoming fire. She entered the night in a dramatically different position than she had nearly two months ago at her first debate. That night, in New Hampshire, she announced her candidacy, introduced herself and her biography to voters and impressed observers with her poise.

Thursday night she had a large target on her back and much more to lose.

Before the debate began, some Iowa Republican insiders expressed doubt about the extent to which she has had time to organize for the straw poll, and said expectations for her performance Saturday may be too high. Her debate performance will likely do nothing to dampen her support and could give her more.

However, even if she wins the straw poll, or finishes a close second, she will face a newly-formed threat in the form of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Perry's impending entry into the race was confirmed several hours before the debate by a spokesman in Texas. It was timed in such a way that it was almost impossible for the moderators of the debate to avoid asking the eight candidates on stage about the soon-to-be candidate.

But Bachmann was the only frontrunner asked about him, and that was only in passing.

"I think there is room in the race for Sarah Palin, Rick Perry or even Bret, you too," she said to Fox News' Bret Baier. >>>CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE HUFFINGTONPOST

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