Republican rivals zeroed in again on Mitt Romney in the South Carolina debate tonight as they made a last-ditch, all-out effort to make certain he doesn't run away with the GOP nomination. They challenged his conservative credentials, his ability to create jobs, his flip-flops—and called on him to release his tax returns, notes the New York Times. A plain-spoken Newt Gingrich scored points with the audience, but Romney remained largely unflustered, and kept his eyes on the Big Race. "I'm the guy who can best post up against Barack Obama," he boasted. In other parrying:
- Romney defends his changing views from a voter posing a Twitter question, focusing on his shift to an anti-abortion stance. But he again switches to the big picture against Obama. "Everything I do will be aimed at strengthening the economy, strengthening the family, and making certain our military is second to none," he declares.
- Gingrich is asked if he sees his comment that "poor kids lack a strong work ethic" as "insulting." He responds simply, to loud applause: "No, I don't," and adds: "Only the elites despise earning money."
- A feisty Gingrich also scores points with the crowd when he urges that unemployment benefits be tied to enrollment in a job-training program. “The fact is 99 weeks is an associate degree,” he adds to loud applause, referring to extending jobless payments. "We actually think work is good. Being willing to help yourself is good." He also lashed Obama as the "best food-stamp president in American history."
- What's the highest tax rate the candidates support? Romney says 25%, Gingrich a flat 15%, and Ron Paul ... 0%.
- Gingrich outlines his foreign policy: "Andrew Jackson had a pretty good idea about America's enemies: 'Kill them,'" which Romney apparently agrees with. “The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received,” says Romney. Paul's idea, which draws raucous boos: "Maybe we ought to consider a golden rule: Don't do to other nations what we don't want them to do to us."
- Romney calls the pro-Gingrich Super PAC ad on Bain Capital the "biggest hoax since Big Foot" and calls for an end to all Super PACs. He said he'd prefer to allow candidates to accept unlimited donations, and take responsibility for their own words.
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