Rick Santorum was on the offensive against all. He went after Romney hard for his health care plan in Massachusetts, saying that he couldn’t debate the President on health care when his own plan inspired ObamaCare. Santorum rattled off a series of claims, such as that 50% of doctors in Massachusetts are not seeing new patients, there are long waits, and that the state has the highest health insurance premium in the country. He also went after Newt Gingrich for his past support of the individual health care mandate and said he fought for health savings accounts “while these two guys were playing footsies with the left.” Romney explained that premiums were that high before his plan was implemented and that the people of Massachusetts favor it by 3-to-1.
The biggest clash of the night was between Santorum and Gingrich. Santorum mentioned that Gingrich experienced a revolt against him during his tenure and that he is undisciplined and accused him of grandiosity. He also alleged that Gingrich was aware of a scandal and chose not to expose it because it might threaten his political ambitions. Santorum said that he doesn’t want a nominee that makes him worry every day about what he’ll say next. Santorum said if he’s the Republican nominee, he’d make Obama the issue. Gingrich defended having grandiose and big ideas. Santorum responded that Gingrich has big ideas but is unable to execute them.
There were some notable exchanges between Gingrich and Romney. Gingrich stood by his criticisms of Romney’s time at Bain Capital, to which Romney indirectly accused him of criticizing capitalism. The two also clashed over Gingrich’s ads that say that RomneyCare provided for taxpayer-funded abortions, which Santorum agreed with. Romney said that a court was responsible for making that happen.
In his sharpest attack on Gingrich, Romney accused him of taking credit for Ronald Reagan’s success. He said that in Reagan’s diary, Gingrich was only mentioned once and it was for a bad idea he proposed. Gingrich claimed that part of the reason for Romney’s success was because of his time in Congress. Romney said that Gingrich shouldn’t take credit for his success because he was only speaker of the House for four years but he was a businessman for 25.
Ron Paul’s main target was Santorum. He criticized him for supporting the Bush Administration’s prescription drug program and for voting against a Right-to-Work bill. At one point, Santorum said that he deserved a response because Paul was referring to him. Paul said that Santorum is “overly sensitive” because he “wasn’t even thinking” about him. Santorum attacked Paul’s pro-life credentials, noting that his Right-to-Life voting record is at 50%, about the same as Harry Reid. Paul argued that this was because he opposed federal anti-abortion laws in favor of state ones because they are constitutional and more effective.
Although Ron Paul criticized overseas military deployments, he carefully avoided making the mistakes he did in previous debates by condemning the raid that killed Bin Laden and asserting that there is “no evidence” that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
There are only four candidates left. Mitt Romney hopes to lock up the nomination by winning Saturday’s primary. Newt Gingrich hopes to stop him and potentially vanquish Rick Santorum with a come-from-behind victory. Rick Santorum is unlikely to win but has given no indication that he will drop out if he loses the primary. Ron Paul has made it known that, even if he knows he can’t win, he’ll stay in the race until the very end.
The importance of Saturday’s primary is hard to overstate. It will decide whether the race will end early or if Romney has a long-term fight on his hands for the nomination.
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