GOP candidates clash for critical South Carolina support

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.—When it comes to GOP presidential nominees, South Carolinians are kingmakers.

South Carolina Republicans pride themselves on the fact that since 1980, no Republican has gone on to clinch the GOP presidential nomination without first winning South Carolina.

No exceptions.

It’s a distinction they’d like to hold on to, and at a recent debate, candidates tried their best to earn South Carolinians’ blessing as their next presidential nominee.

The South Carolina GOP primary election, which has come to be known in the Palmetto State as the “First in the South” primary, is this Saturday, Jan. 21.

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney won both the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary, making him the front-runner going into Monday night’s debate.

On Monday, Jan. 16, the five remaining GOP hopefuls squared off in a no-holds-barred debate. Debate participants included Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

Hours before the “First in the South” debate, hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, former Nevada Gov. Jon Huntsman withdrew from the race, throwing his support behind Romney, of whom he was extremely critical during previous debates and throughout the campaign trail.

Almost immediately, the subject of the debate turned to Romney’s record while leading private equity firm Bain Capital, which has been the subject of criticism from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But Romney was quick to defend his record, saying Bain Capital—which funded such ventures as Staples, The Sports Authority and Bright Horizons—created 120,000 jobs.

“Well, I appreciate the chance to talk about my record and the private sector and also the governmental sector. And I appreciate the speaker’s work working in the Reagan years and in the Clinton years. We did see good growth in this country. I want to see that come back again,” Romney said.
“My experience in the private sector took me, one to be head of a consulting firm that got in trouble and work to create jobs there and hold on to jobs. We were in tough times. And then I got the chance to start a business of my own. And four of the companies that we invested in, they weren’t businesses I ran, but we invested in, ended up today having some 120,000 jobs. Some of the business we invested weren’t successful and lost jobs. And I’m very proud of the fact that we learned from the experience.
“We invested in well over 100 different businesses. And the people have looked at the places that have added jobs and lost jobs and that record is pretty much available for people to take a close look at,” Romney said.

Romney also said he would most likely release his tax records around April.

“You know, I looked at what has been done in campaigns in the past with Senator McCain and President George W. Bush and others. They have tended to release tax records in April or tax season. I hadn’t planned on releasing tax records because the law requires us to release all of our assets, all the things we own. That I have already released. It’s a pretty full disclosure. But, you know, if that’s been the tradition and I’m not opposed to doing that, time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I’ll keep that open,” Romney said.

Gingrich, who has come under fire recently from some Republicans for attacking Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, said properly vetting a GOP candidate was in everyone’s best interest, adding if Romney were to get the GOP nod, President Barack Obama would raise the same concerns during his re-election bid.

For Gingrich—who, up until the Iowa Caucus earlier this month, had enjoyed some time as the front-runner—he received a standing ovation while answering a question about a comment he made some perceived to be derogatory toward poor and minority Americans.

“So here’s my point. I believe 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, learn how to get a better job and learn someday to own the job,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich also drew applause when referring to jobless benefits available for 99 weeks, saying, “Now, the fact is, 99 weeks is an associate’s degree.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose recent poll numbers have him at the rear of the pack, drew overwhelming applause when answering a question about voter identification laws and states’ rights.

“Governor Perry, last month the Department of Justice challenged South Carolina’s new law requiring registered voters to show state issued identification before they can vote. Governor Haley has pledged to fight the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court. You sided with the government. Now, Governor Perry, are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?” Fox News correspondent and debate moderator Juan Williams asked.

“I’m saying—I’m saying that the state of—of Texas is under assault by federal government. I’m saying also that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration. If you look at what this Justice Department has done, not only have they taken them to task on voter ID, they’ve also taken them to task on their immigration law and in them the most egregious thing obviously is this National Labor Relations Board, where they come into a right to work state and tell the state of South Carolina…
“We’re not going to let a private company come in here. That is irresponsible. I would suggest to you it’s unconstitutional. And when I’m the president of the United States, the states are going to have substantially more right to take care of their business. And not be forced by the EPA, or by the Justice Department for that matter, to do things that are against the will of the people,” Perry said.

Paul said he was misunderstood in his position about cuts to military spending.

“I want to cut money, overseas money. That’s what I want to do. I want to cut military money. I don’t want to cut defense money. I want to bring the troops home. I’d probably have more bases here at home. We were closing them down in the 1990s and building them overseas. That’s how we got into trouble.
“So we would save a lot more money and have a stronger national defense, and that’s what we should do. But to say that we would be weaker is absolutely wrong, because—and—and—and another important thing you should consider is the fact that the military is behind me more than the others. I get twice as much money from the from the active military duties than all the other candidates put together. So they’re saying that I’m on the right track. They’re sick and tired of those wars. They’re sick and tired of the nation- building and the policing activity. But to say that we would have less money for defense, we’d actually have more money,” Paul said.

Paul was booed for some statements he made about foreign policy.

“I, too, served in the Air Force for five years during the height of the Cold War from ’62 to ’68 so I’ve had a little bit of experience. In a matter of fact, I was over in the Afghanistan, Pakistan region. But I would like to point out one thing about the Taliban. The Taliban used to be our allies when we were fighting the Russians. So Taliban are people who want—their main goal is to keep foreigners off their land.

“It’s the al Qaeda you can’t mix the two. The al Qaeda want to come here to kill us. The Taliban just says we don’t want foreigners. We need to understand that, or we can’t resolve this problem in the Middle East. We are going to spend a lot of lives and a lot of money for a long time to come,” Paul said.

Ron Paul supporter Martin Goter of Leland said he was “ashamed to be a Republican last night.”

“I made it into the debate last night, and I loved it because of the experience. That being said, I never want to do it again. The attitude of the (so-called) Christian crowd was terrible and frightening, as I was in the middle of it, I can easily see how Nazi Germany happened. People (once again so-called Christians) cheered on the destruction of our Constitution, and more importantly and more disturbingly booed without hesitation the basic biblical principle of the ‘Golden Rule’—disgusting,” Goter said.

Goter was referring to Paul’s comment about the U.S. following a “golden rule” in foreign policy, to which the audience booed loudly.

Gingrich was quick to interject his two cents about what to do with a terrorist who kills Americans.

“We’re in South Carolina. South Carolina in the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabred by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them,” Gingrich said to thunderous applause.

Santorum criticized Obama signing the National Defense Authorization Act.

“First off, I would say this, what the law should be and what the law has been is that if you are a United States citizen and you are detained as an enemy combatant, then you have the right to go to federal court and file a habeas corpus position and be provided a lawyer. That was the state of the law before the National Defense Authorization Act and that should be the state of the law today.
You should not have — you should not have — if you are not an American citizen, that’s one thing. But if you are a citizen and you are being held indefinitely, then you have the right to go to a federal court — and again, the law prior to the National Defense Authorization Act was that you had the right to go to a court, and for that court to determine by a preponderance of the evidence whether you could continue to be held. That is a standard that should be maintained and I would maintain that standard as president,” Santorum said.

Williams asked Romney about his opposition to the DREAM Act, and if he thought that alienated Latino voters.

“You know, I think Latino voters, like all voters in this country, are interested in America being an opportunity nation. People come here because they believe they want to have a brighter future and that’s been the story of America. The president looks out across the country and says it could be worse. I can’t believe saying that. The American people recognize it’s got to be better.
“In my view, as long as we communicate to the people of all backgrounds in this country that it can be better, and that America is a land of opportunity, we will get those votes.
Now with regards to immigration policy, I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens that’s not given to those people who have stayed in line legally. I just think we have to follow the law, I think that’s the right course,” Romney said.