Mitt Romney rivals try to plant doubts about him in debate

Mitt Romney rivals try to plant doubts about him in debate
Mitt Romney’s Republican presidential rivals attempted to plant new doubts about his conservatism and his character during a debate here on Monday, putting the front-runner on the defensive — and unnerving him at moments — even as polls suggest he is in a position to win a crucial contest on Saturday.
Aware that only five days remained before a South Carolina primary that could clear Romney’s path to the nomination, his four opponents offered some of their most strident rhetoric of the campaign.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, when asked about the Justice Department’s rejection of South Carolina’s voter-identification law on the grounds that it discriminates against minority voters, said: “South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration.” His comments brought cheers from the conservative audience, which was sitting in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, about 100 miles from the spot where the first shots of the Civil War were fired more than 150 years ago.
When former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) was asked how long unemployment benefits should last, he replied that all such payments should be linked to job training and issued a broadside at President Obama, who has fought to have such benefits extended.
“Unconditional efforts by the best food-stamp president in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country,” Gingrich said. “Every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job.” That comment brought a standing ovation.
Gingrich and Perry continued their criticism of Romney as having a record as a corporate turnaround artist — despite the fact that this line of argument against the likely nominee has made other Republicans fear that they may be giving the Democrats ammunition.
“There was a pattern in some companies, a handful of them, of leaving them with enormous debt and then within a year or two or three having them go broke,” Gingrich said. “I think that is something he ought to answer.”
Perry added: “I visited Georgetown, South Carolina. It was one of those towns where there was a steel mill that [Romney’s firm Bain Capital] swept in, they picked that company over and a lot of people lost jobs there.”
Romney responded that he is proud of his record.
“I think if people want to have someone who understands how the economy works, having worked in the real economy, then I’m the guy that can best post up against Barack Obama,” he said.
He also recast his job-creation efforts at Bain, focusing on the firm’s biggest successes rather than the sum of its deals. Romney previously had said he helped create more than 100,000 net jobs, but on Monday he highlighted four businesses that his company helped start that he said have since accounted for 120,000 new positions.
Romney, however, was caught off balance at several points. After so many debates, his opponents have learned the types of challenges that will rattle him.

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