Republican Presidential Debate May Strongly Shape GOP Race

Politics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 13, 2011   |   10:17AM   |   Washington, DC

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, the site of the second primary battleground early next year, has the potential to shape the race for the GOP nomination to take on pro-abortion President Barack Obama.

The debate — the second in the primary election campaign but the first to feature most of the top names of people running or considering a run for the nomination — has the potential to answer key questions that will decide the future of the campaign.

The first and most immediately question is whether former Speaker Newt Gingrich will be able to soldier on with a campaign after the mass exodus last week of more than a dozen high-level staffers. The former Gingrich staff told various media outlets that the former congressman was not interested in the normal kind of retail politicking required of candidates in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina necessary to attract voters. They said Gingrich mostly preferred to campaign online, via the debates and policy addresses talking about the future of the country and cited a recent two-week vacation to the Mediterranean as indicative of a lack of campaign discipline.

Gingrich, who also doomed his own campaign with a poor roll out weeks ago and followed it up with disparaging remarks about the Medicare reform plan Paul Ryan has put forward, will need to shine in the debate to have any hope of continuing on in the race. Should he falter, political observers will likely call it the end of his presidential dreams.

The second question concerns whether Mitt Romney will claim the frontrunner mantle that his polling standing and fundraising make him appear to have. Romney leads in polls of most of the early states and nationally and has already raised well over $10 million for the race in these early stages. Based on his name identification alone from having run in 2008 and the fact that many Republican voters tend to award the runner up with the nomination the next time around, the lead position is his for the taking.

However, that opens him up to tough questions and criticism from his Republican opponents. Will they begin piling on the former Massachusetts governor tonight at Saint Anselm College.

The early answer to the question appears to be yes as, over the weekend, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty criticized Romney’s government-run health care program he instituted by saying that Obama used the program as a model to put Obamacare in place.

“President Obama said that he designed ‘Obamacare’ after ‘Romneycare’ and basically made it ‘Obamneycare,” Pawlenty said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“The president’s own words is that he patterned in large measure ‘Obamacare’ after what happened in Massachusetts,” Pawlenty said. “What I don’t understand is they both continue to defend it.”

Up until the weekend, Pawlenty had not directly attacked Romney and his comments could pave the way for the rest of the field to either directly or subtly go after Romney, who is open to criticism on abortion by virtue of his change of heart on the subject just a couple of years prior to running for president the first time around. Although some pro-life advocates say he is fully pro-life and point to his consistent comments on abortion, Roe v. Wade and bioethics issues since his conversion, others say it was political and indicate they don’t trust him fully.

The third question concerns potential candidate Michele Bachmann. The participation of Bachmann could decide whether she ultimately launches an expected bid for the Republican nomination. Should she put in a strong debate performance, she will likely see even more encouragement to run. If she falters, some political observers may say she would be in over her head getting in the campaign as a member of Congress without any experience as governor or senator.

Other Republicans like businessman Herman Cain, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also must find a way to stand out. Cain used the South Carolina debate to boost his standing in the polls in Iowa and nationally with Tea Party conservatives, but Santorum and Paul didn’t appear to gain from the last forum.

The two-hour Republican debate, sponsored by CNN, WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Union Leader, will begin at 8 p.m. local time.

During the previous debate, in South Carolina, Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, received a question about the social issues truce Indiana governor and former potential presidential candidate Mitch Daniels called for previously.

Asked, “Are you willing to tone down your positions on abortion and homosexuality in an effort to reach more voters and help the GOP coalesce behind a more fiscally focused platform?,” Santorum replied, “Anybody that would suggest that we call a truce on the moral issues doesn’t understand what America is all about.”

“America is a country that is based on this concept, and the Declaration of Independence, that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Rights come from God and the first of which is life,” he said. “Those two concepts really transformed the world because it said that government was going to be limited. Allow people to be free, and to pursue their own dream and to serve their God, to serve their family and community. And if we have a respect for human life because of course we’re all created equal.”

“A lot of people out here can check the boxes and say they have conservative positions, but I’ve led on life,” he told the Greenville audience. “I’ve got the arrows in my back from the mainstream media to prove it.”

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was asked about his stance on embryonic stem cell research and he made it clear he supports the more ethical kind that is the only variety to help patients.

“As to stem cell research it holds great promise and I support stem cell research. I think it should be adult derived,” he said. “By the way, Shannon, most of the therapies and breakthroughs that we are seeing in terms of treatment are coming from adult derived stem cell research. I strongly support that. As to embryonic stem cell research, I don’t think we should pursue [it].”

Pawlenty told the South Carolina audience he supported the protections President George W. Bush put in place — that pro-abortion President Barack Obama repealed — preventing any taxpayer funding of any new embryonic stem cell research that involves the destruction of human life.

In 2008, Pawlenty vetoed the Kahn-Cohen Cloning Bill, which would have legalized human cloning and forced taxpayers to pay for the destruction of human life. Pro-life advocates strongly opposed the legislation, SF 100, because it funds human cloning and the killing of human embryos at the University of Minnesota.

In his veto message, Pawlenty described the human embryo-destructive experiments as “crossing core ethical and moral boundaries.”

“Significant and promising progress continues to be made on the use of adult stem cells. This creates ample opportunity to work toward lifesaving cures,” Pawlenty said. “We should encourage this science.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who supports legalized abortion, was asked his position on abortion and quickly turned himself off to most Republican voters by declaring he supports abortion up to the point of “viability of the fetus,” though he checked off a number of pro-life laws limiting abortions that he could support. He said he would hope to get the vote of pro-life people in the general election against Obama.