Huffpost Politics

New Hampshire Debate: News & Updates From GOP Presidential Forum

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Seven Republican presidential hopefuls are facing off in New Hampshire's first presidential debate of the 2012 election season Monday night.

The list of names taking part in the forum includes: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

All of the participants have officially launched campaigns for the White House in the next election cycle with the exception of Bachmann, who is expected to officially announce her candidacy for president later this month in Iowa.

Two new polls out on the evolving primary match-up show Romney to be running ahead of the pack. The race for the Republican presidential nomination, however, remains far from settled.

Granite State-based outlets WMUR and the Union Leader, along with CNN, are sponsoring the debate being held at St. Anselm College on Monday night.

Click here for a rundown on five things to watch in the forum. Below, a live blog on the latest developments to unfold out of New Hampshire.

live blog

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel:

Andy Card, who was President Bush's chief of staff, said during CNN's post-debate analysis that he disagreed with many of the candidates on the issue of raising the debt ceiling, saying he believes Congress should lift it:

On the issue of the debt ceiling, I was one of the people pushing Sen. Obama to actually permit the debt ceiling to go up, so I'm in favor of increasing the debt ceiling. I want responsible cutting on the other end, but I thought Michele Bachmann did a very good job tonight. I thought all of the candidates did a good job tonight. I really want to stress that, you know, there were no embarrassments among that group. They did a good job.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein:

The Democratic Party stayed pretty close to now-well-worn messaging in its official response to the Republican presidential debate. If the economy seems to be sputtering, the refrain went, it's because people vastly underestimated the scope of the problem inherited by the president.

“Tonight’s Republican debate was a reminder that we’ve been down this road of failed economic policies and proposals before," said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "The economic recession in America wasn’t caused by bad luck; it was caused by bad Republican policies. But the Republican candidates are doubling down on the same flawed policies that led to the loss of 3.6 million jobs in the final months of 2008 and gravely affected middle class families across America."

For good measure, the DNC trumpeted up its defense of two bedrock entitlement programs –- Medicare and Social Security –- arguing that the GOP would end and privatize those two, respectively. But the post-debate spin still seemed to put the emphasis on Obama's predecessor.

"This is not going to be… an election to blame George Bush," said former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on CNN. "But I'm suggesting that a series of decisions that got us into the mess is not a series of decisions we ought to make to get us out of it."

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

I'll refrain from assigning grades to the candidates, because this isn't grammar school.

As I stated earlier, Rick Santorum did a good job jumping on open questions and beating the field to filling dead air. He was crisp and assertive. But if this performance doesn't move the polling needle for him at all, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that people just aren't that interested in him being president.

Michele Bachmann followed Santorum's lead throughout the night and didn't say anything so bonkers that it would immediately be disqualifying.

Ron Paul didn't manage to crack the debate format, and didn't make use of any opportunities to get in there and start interjecting. When he took a direct question, though, he managed to provide the same assertive answers that he's been giving for years. He is clearly desirous of ending our overseas wars, and the Federal Reserve, for instance! Paul also managed to avoid any awkward moments where he imitated heroin addicts.

Watching Tim Pawlenty refuse to stand behind the term he coined, "Obamneycare," was a wrenching thing to watch! John King sunk in the skewers, pointing out that he was willing to call the Affordable Care Act "Obamneycare" to Chris Wallace, so why not say it to Romney's face? Pawlenty evaded, unconvincingly, at length. So, we've had two debates, and two prolonged instances of Pawlenty ducking and groveling, pathetically. And that's why he's behind in the polls!

Romney, for his part, was willing to look past Pawlenty's past statements. He even offered magnanimous praise for Pawlenty's economic plans -- a break for TPaw, given the credulous way Chris Wallace treated them in the same interview. If you're an independent voter, and you're looking for the candidate who's going to be the rational consensus builder, you saw that in Romney. Too bad the Tea Party types hate him so much!

I'll be curious to know whether Herman Cain will have the same impact on undecided New Hampshire voters that he clearly had in South Carolina. Cain was the same guy he was in that earlier debate, but I didn't sense that he was standing out in quite the same way. If I had to speculate (and I guess I do!), I'd say that Cain probably held serve.

Newt Gingrich also participated in the debate tonight.

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HuffPost's Michael Calderone:

Guess the more pressing question. This: Should gay U.S. servicemen and women be allowed to serve openly? Or that: Should U.S. servicemen and women remain in harm’s way?

If you were watching the Republican debate, you might have assumed the latter. CNN moderator John King -- who described his role to me as debate “traffic cop” -- steered the candidates to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before raising the issue of whether the candidates believe troops should remain in Afghanistan or whether President Obama was justified in authorizing attacks on Libya.

No one expected foreign policy to be the focus of tonight’s debate. We all know it’s the economy, stupid. And King understandably kicked things off with a question about jobs. That’s what American voters want to hear about most now.

But with the U.S. still involved in Afghanistan and Iraq and bombing Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan, it’s surprising that King didn’t ask any foreign policy questions until an hour and 44 minutes into the two-hour debate. Other social issues, such as the influence of faith and abortion, also came up before questions about U.S. military interests abroad. And the foreign policy conversation that began at 9:44 was over by 9:53.

While Republican voters may leave the Saint Anselm College debate hall still unsure about how the candidates might handle, say, Pakistan’s intelligence service or Israel's borders, they do know that Hermain Cain prefers deep dish to thin crust.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein:

Former Bush White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, appearing on CNN for post-debate analysis, brought up a fairly bizarre complaint. Unlike the Republicans, he said, Democrats won't be debating themselves between now and the election.

"What we are missing tonight is any debate among the Democrats," Card said. "We will not have one. We will not have a debate among the Democrats between now and the time President Obama accepts the nomination of his party and I think that's said."

That Obama goes scratch free for the next year or so is, apparently, terribly unfair for Card, who likely had no problem at all with an open primary when his former boss, George W. Bush, was running for re-election.

But it also is a pretty obvious feature of the incumbency, leading a befuddled Anderson Cooper to ask: "But isn't that the way things work?"

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Voters have consistently sounded their dissatisfaction with the current GOP field of candidates. But the GOP field of candidates seems to disagree! Herman Cain says that he believes that once people get to know the field better, they'll come to like them all, and that Cain personally, thinks that he's in a strong field.

The rest followed suit. Mitt Romney said that anyone on the stage would be a better president than Barack Obama. Everyone did their best to suggest that everyone on the stage would make a fine vice presidential candidate for their ticket as well -- without committing themselves to picking one (probably because no one wanted Newt Gingrich to feel left out). Michele Bachmann proposed an "American Idol" contest to decide. Ron Paul said that everyone on the stage would make for a qualified veep. However, he made it clear that he would withhold making a pick until they'd offered their take on the Federal Reserve.

To prove how likable they were, there was some last minute pandering. Newt Gingrich said that the event proved why New Hampshire deserves to have "first in the nation" status as a primary state. And Tim Pawlenty managed to be the last candidate to praise the Stanley Cup-contending Boston Bruins. (Previously, Mitt Romney had pandered to Bruins fans, but for what it's worth, Pawlenty is the more-authentic hockey fan.)

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HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:

A few minutes after talking about the sanctity of life with abortion, the Republican candidates turned to immigration, arguing the government should do more to stop immigrants from entering the United States illegally -- or allow militias to do so -- and block undocumented immigrants from using even emergency health services.

Ron Paul said the government should not require doctors to treat undocumented immigrants -- even if they were children -- or grant them easy citizenship. He said the government should push for the border to be secured by any means necessary, seemingly endorsing militias created to patrol to border like the Minutemen, who are often considered a rogue group. "There was a time when we didn't depend on the government for everything," he said.

Newt Gingrich agreed, saying the National Guard should be sent to the border to stop illegal immigration. He said there are no solutions for either deporting 12 million people or legalizing them, but instead the issue should be dealt with in parts.

"We're never going to pass a comprehensive bill," Newt Gingrich said. "Obama has proved that the last two years."

Herman Cain made a more centrist approach, saying "of course" undocumented immigrants should be given emergency health care. He argued the border should be secured and then Congress should "clean up the bureaucracy" for legal immigration.

He said he opposes birthright citizenship, the automatic right to citizenship for children born in the U.S. to undocumented mothers. Tim Pawlenty said the issue of birthright citizenship was related to activist judges, arguing he would appoint conservatives to the courts that wouldn't make such a radical decision. (The court case most attributed to birthright citizenship was in 1898.)

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HuffPost's Sam Stein:

After one hour and 45 minutes, the GOP presidential debate finally turned to foreign policy, with three candidates asked whether they would pull troops out of Afghanistan on an expedited basis.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney offered an evasive answer, saying he would "bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can" but only based on " the conditions on the ground determined by the generals."

“Only Afghans can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban," he added.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty was similarly vague, though he expanded his answer to note that if he had intelligence on groups or individuals plotting to attack the country, including in Yemen (he noted), "you can bet they will hear from me and we will continue those bombings."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hit a skeptical note about the cost of U.S. policy in the broader Middle East, arguing that the country need to drawdown "as rapidly as possible with the safety of the troops [considered]." He added that, as president, he would instruct the generals to "find new and very different strategies because this is too big a problem for us to deal with American ground forces in direct combat; we need a totally new strategy for the region."

Offering the most the emotionally pitched critique of current U.S. foreign policy was, again, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

"I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the commander in chief," said the isolationist Texas Republican. "I would bring them home as quickly as possible and I'd get them out of Iraq as well."

As is custom, Paul seemed to be applauded by slightly more than half of the crowd.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

The battle for marriage equality is the animating idea in Fred Karger's life and candidacy. What he heard on the subject left him feeling unimpressed, and made him itch to join the debate.

He emailed HuffPost:

Gay marriage. Wish I was on there! Wish I was on that stage to continue to fight bigotry within my party. It's really turning into a right-wingathon.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

Bachmann got a classic wedge question: As an opponent of marriage equality, but a proponent of federalism, would she work to overturn a state-level decision to allow for same-sex marriage?

After a fashion, Bachmann said that she would not favor "coming into a state" to interfere with their decisions on the matter. Pretty consistent tentherism.

The theme continued. Cain said that he, too, would leave it up to the states. And Ron Paul, of course, wants the government out of marriage entirely.

Then came a slew of candidates who supported Federal interference in a state's decision to allow for marriage equality. Pawlenty said he supports a constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman. Newt Gingrich noted that he helped author DOMA. And Santorum added, "We should have one law in the country with respect to marriage."

Bachmann is maybe now too inured to following in Santorum's footsteps, because then she changed her mind and followed suit with everyone who supported federal intervention in mandating what "marriage" is.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Cain says that he "would not be comfortable with Muslims" in his administration, because "there are peaceful Muslims, and Muslims that are trying to kill us...and when I said I would not be comfortable, I was referring to the ones that were trying to kill us."

Herman Cain: not comfortable being around the people who were trying to kill him, apparently! (But Cain went on to dodge the question if he'd ask a Christian or a Jewish appointee, "Say, are you trying to kill me?")

Romney took a pretty measured and pragmatic approach to the fear of "creeping sharia," pointing out that the Constitution would remain the law of the land and that laws that violated its precepts would be deemed unconstitutional. Which is pretty rational.

Gingrich followed on by essentially saying that if he found out somebody was trying to destroy America, he would not appoint that person.

John King followed this by asking one of his idiotic "This or that" questions. To Cain: "Deep dish or thin crust." Cain answered "Deep dish."

But if you eat too much deep dish pizza it will kill you!

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

I honestly cannot believe that John King asked Rick Santorum if faith played a role in his governing philosophy. Is he not familiar with this fellow, Rick Santorum, and his career? Santorum basically provided the answer that everyone in the room already knew. I'll summarize: "Yes, a lot."

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports:

As Congress works out a budget deal with the White House on cutting spending and raising the debt ceiling, the candidates were asked tonight whether they support increasing the limit.

"I believe we will not raise the debt ceiling unless the President finally, finally is willing to be a leader on issues that the American people care about," said Mitt Romney. "The number one issue that relates to that debt ceiling is whether the government is going to keep on spending money they don't have."

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she had already voted against raising the debt ceiling and would oppose it again unless there were "serious cuts."

She pointed to an old quote by President Obama, stating that he "refused to raise the debt ceiling because he said President Bush had failed in leadership. Clearly President Obama has failed in leadership."

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Cain's "specific" Social Security plan? "Fix the problem," by privatizing Social Security like they did in Chile.

Chilean social security was something that Sharron Angle cited in the 2010 campaign as a model for social security privatization. As with just about any recollection of the myth of Chile's "Chicago Boys" economic successes, it leaves out reality. As the AP reported in August 2010, "the pension system established in 1981 by right-wing Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is no longer a fully private system. Chile's system was revamped in 2008 to expand public pensions for groups left out of its system, including low-income seniors."

Still, points to Cain for at least not answering the question by saying he'd gather up the right people and come up with plan.

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HuffPost's Ryan Grim reports:

Newt Gingrich, emerging from the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia, returned to battle Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. After saying that his previous criticism of it as "right wing social engineering" had been "taken totally out of context," he returned to criticizing it, suggesting that just as Obama pushed health care beyond where the people were ready to go, so had Ryan. "If you can't convince the American people it's a good idea, maybe it's not a good idea," he said of Ryan's plan.

Simultaneously, his campaign, or what's left of it, tweeted: "Newt has consistently praised House Republican budget as bold step in right direction. Example: bit.ly/ljAFKw"

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Fred Karger is hearing a lot of talking talking talking:

Boy these politicians are longwinded. 30 seconds seems easy to track. Let's fund the space program. Let's send a manned mission to Mars! Romney sure sounds like a broken record. Bring back Michele.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at Monday's debate said he is upset with all the money that has been spent on the space program. But it's not simply because he thinks it's been wasted on an unwieldy bureaucracy, but because he thinks, had the private sector been allowed to innovate the U.S. would have, among other things, a permanent space station on the moon.

"If you had taken all the money we have spent on NASA since we landed on the moon and you applied that money for incentives for the private sector we would today probably have a permanent station on the moon [and] three or four permanent stations in space."

Gingrich later clarified that he's not for scratching space exploration, just merely privatizing the process. "What we have today is bureaucracy after bureaucracy after bureaucracy," he concluded.

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports:

Tim Pawlenty received the first round of spontaneous applause during the debate when he said he said he backs federal right to work legislation, which would reduce the power of unions and weaken collective bargaining. Pawlenty used the opportunity to bring up his blue collar past and even gave a shout-out to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh:

We live in the United States and people shouldn't be forced to belong to an organization. The government has no business telling you what group to be a member of or not. I support strongly right-to-work legislation. (APPLAUSE)

Like I said, for much of his life my dad was a Teamster truck driver. My brothers and sisters -- many are in unions. I was in a union. We grew up in a blue collar town. My family were Reagan Democrats, and now most listen to Rush Limbaugh actually. The point is, I understand these issues, but we don't have a government tell us what organizations or associations we should be in. We tell the government what to do.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) recently vetoed right-to-work legislation that the GOP-controlled legislature passed by large margins. The legislature may still attempt to override the governor's veto.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins reports:

Rick Santorum has cracked the code of this debate so far. If John King poses a question to the field, he jumps right on it and provides the first answer. Twice now, Michele Bachmann has jumped to follow Santorum's lead. By the time King gets their two answers, he's ready to move on. In this format, Santorum's calm assertiveness is a smart move. Ron Paul, on the other hand, is just getting shut out of the debate so far. He doesn't have the same instinct Santorum does to elbow his way into the conversation.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

John King, for reasons I will never be able to understand, just asked Rick Santorum: "Leno or Conan?"

Santorum said that he did not watch either comedian, "sorry," but "probably Leno."

As you might recall, the whole "Leno or Conan" controversy took place in January of 2010, and since then, Jay Leno has gone back to hosting The Tonight Show, and Conan hosts a new show on TBS. There will actually be no need for Rick Santorum to litigate this matter any further, but he'll probably come out against whatever show is, in his estimation, "more gay."

Bachmann was asked, "Elvis or Johnny Cash?" Bachmann said it was a tough question. The correct answer, of course, is "Johnny Cash."

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

So far tonight, we have Michele Bachmann pledging to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, because policing pollution can be a drag on keeping polluters employed. Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain have come out against the National Labor Relations Board, because of the "free market."

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HuffPost's Sam Stein:

Tim Pawlenty got some very early negative reviews for his unwillingness to whack Mitt Romney, yet again, on the health care plan he instituted in Massachusetts. The former Minnesota Governor had, just one day prior, called the Affordable Care Act, "Obamneycare," a pejorative, albeit dorky, term. On Monday night, however, he insisted that he only use the phrase as a response to a reporters correction -– a passivity for which he took some heat. "TPaw blinked on "Obamanycare". That was his moment," tweeted former RNC Chair Michael Steele. "t-paw seems too canned," said Rich Lowry of the National Review.

Bill Burton, the former Obama aide who left to run an administration-supporting outside group was only happy to oblige. "Romney weirdly winning on healthcare because of Pawlenty's weakness," he tweeted. "Thats not MN nice, that's kid [sic] of pathetic."

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

Herman Cain has a plan, and it's to do more planning. He will make sure, as a candidate, that he is "working on the right problem," and then he will "surround himself with the right people," and then they will come up with a plan. That is, after all, how he solved the problem of how to put pizzas in cars and send them to people living in houses who did not want to cook their own pizzas, necessarily.

This was an answer to a question about whether or not his Tea Party affiliation would risk alienating independent voters, somehow!

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel:

On Sunday, Tim Pawlenty took one of his most aggressive swipes at Mitt Romney, tying the Massachusetts health care plan that passed while he was governor to President Obama's health care reform: "President Obama said that he designed Obamacare after Romneycare and basically made it Obamneycare."

When asked about it in tonight's debate, Romney repeated his talking point that the Massachusetts law was a "state solution," and "if people don't like it in our state, they can change it it." He also said that if elected, on his first day of office, he would grant a waiver for all 50 states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act.

Pawlenty has been downplaying "Obamneycare," insisting it wasn't an insult for Romney and saying he wasn't likely to use the term in tonight's debate.

"The issue that was raised in the question from a reporter was what are the similarities between the two and I just cited the president's own words," said Pawlenty in response to a question from CNN's John King tonight. "President Obama is the person who I quoted saying he looked to Massachusetts in designing his program."

Romney refused to dig Pawlenty, saying instead to Obama: "Why didn't you give me a call" if you were crafting health care based on Massachusetts?

Failed Republican Senate candidate from Delaware Christine O'Donnell tweeted that Romney's response was "impressive."

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

Fred Karger, the openly-gay former Reagan campaign consultant who's staging a long-shot bid for the nomination, is shut out of the debate, as he was in South Carolina. He is once again on the sidelines with former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, and joined by former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. As in South Carolina, he has very kindly offered to provide his running commentary tonight:

I've tallied 143 kids and 23 foster kids between the seven debaters.

And that does not include the entirety of Ron Paul's obstetrics practice.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

Right from the opening question, John King served up an opportunity to hit Tim Pawlenty for an economic plan that many GOP economists believe to be unrealistic. Santorum opted to not engage the subject of whether or not TPaw's 5 percent growth goal was unrealistic or not and moved to attack President Barack Obama instead.

Mitt Romney also held off, saying that "Tim has the right instincts" and that his budget deal was "in the right wheelhouse."

Ron Paul went further and said that "with a free-market economy," 10-15 percent growth was not unrealistic.

Tim Pawlenty's campaign was very quick to tweet Romney's praise.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) chose the debate forum to announce that she will be seeking the office of the presidency. "I filed today my paper work to seek the office of the presidency of the United States today," she said, adding that a formal announced will be coming shortly.

The declaration, which came during the first question tossed her way, could very well overshadow any news to come out of Monday night's forum – a shrewd move, perhaps, for the Minnesota Republican.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

As we noted earlier, if it takes John King twenty minutes to explain the rules of tonight's debate, it's because this debate will be packed with high-tech wizardry and multiple packs of questioners, sending in their inquiries from three satellite locations and from the "Red Zone" on the stage. As Joshua Green reported earlier, these are all add-ons to a debate that's supposed to have "no rules":

You know those annoying buzzers and lights that cut off the candidates' answers, just when they're starting to panic and say something interesting? Well, not tonight they won't be. That's because there won't be any. CNN's doing this up freestyle! If you want to go a little long? Just do it. And if John King would prefer that you elaborate on your answer a bit more, he's just going to straight up ask that you do so! Because there are no rules tonight. (At least not the kind there usually are.) And with tweets and Facebook questions and the giant looming visage of skeptical Free-Staters and some more of them down below in the Red Zone and John King and--who knows, maybe the janitor will wander by, and if he wants to ask a question I BET THEY'LL LET HIM!--so you'd better do the smart thing and tune in to CNN at 8 p.m. You won't want to miss it.

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HuffPost's Jason Linkins:

John King asked each candidate to offer up a brief opening sentence describing them. Most took more that one. Santorum and Romney mentioned their offspring. Bachmann touted the "Live Free Or Die" state. Ron Paul has delivered 4,000 babies. Herman Cain said he was a "problem solver," not a politician.

Newt Gingrich kept it short, sweet, and mentioned unemployment. Who needs a campaign staff, anyway?

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports from New Hampshire:

Romney walks out with an air of confidence, slowly, no waves. Takes the initiative in making small talk during awkward photo shoot where they all have to stand there silently. He was the one who looks at King and says, "Can we go back?"

Romney talked to Gingrich during the photo and is now talking to him again during the few minutes of quiet before the debate starts.

Someone in the crowd shouted and everyone stood up and then they started doing the pledge of allegiance. Romney made his voice the loudest.

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