GOP Candidates face off in high stakes debate in Arizona
Thursday, February 23, 2012
The Republican presidential candidates head back on the campaign trail Thursday after a debate in Phoenix, Ariz. that, while fiery at times, ultimately changed little in the race for the 2012 presidential nomination.
The debate, which took place one week before a flurry of voting begins with contests in Michigan and Arizona, saw Mitt Romney reaffirm his genteel but biting attack style. His main target was Rick Santorum, who faced a host of questions from his rival aimed at cutting short the would-be path of an emerging frontrunner.
Romney went on offense from the start against Santorum's record of spending while in the U.S. Senate, accusing him of raising the debt ceiling five times, funding Planned Parenthood and expanding the Department of Education.
In a searing first shot the Republican presidential primary frontrunner said during Santorum's watch, spending grew 80 percent of the federal government.
But in a quick retort, Santorum, seated next to Romney one week before they and candidates Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul hear from voters in Arizona and Michigan, said that while he was in office in Washington, the debt as a percentage of GDP went down from 68 percent to 64 percent.
Santorum added that if he were president, he would cut the budget by $5 trillion over five years but it wouldn't come from defense spending, but from means-testing entitlement programs..
"When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget," Santorum said. "Some people have suggested that defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent. If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to."
Santorum is in a heated contest against Romney in what has essentially turned into a two-man contest for the nomination to challenge President Obama, surging in recent polls both nationally and in key primary states.