Huffpost Politics

Iowa Debate News: Live Updates From The Hawkeye State (VIDEO)

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Eight Republican candidates are facing off in Iowa's first presidential debate of the 2012 election season on Thursday night.

The list of names taking part in the Hawkeye State forum includes: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, 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.).

The GOP primary event comes ahead of the widely-anticipated Ames Straw Poll, a test of conservative strength and table-setter for next year's Iowa caucuses set to take place on Saturday.

Below, a live blog of the latest developments to unfold in the Hawkeye State.

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HuffPost's Sara Kenigsberg and Jon Ward headed to the spin room after the debate to get reactions to the sparring:

Video by Sara Kenigsberg

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The Obama campaign urged its email followers to pay close attention to the GOP presidential campaign at various moments while it was taking place on Thursday night -- suggesting that the whole thing was theater that only helped the president seem, well, presidential.

By the end of it, however, the campaign rendered a judgment, and it came in the form of a tweet from national press secretary Ben LaBolt.

"Once again," LaBolt said, "through all of the rhetoric, Republicans don't mention the middle class."

-- Sam Stein

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"American Idol" or "Dancing With the Stars"? Thin crust or thick? Remember all of those stupid either/or questions that riddled the last debate on CNN?

Well, credit where credit is due. Fox/Washington Examiner got through the entire debate without resorting to either format frippery or pointless frivolity. The moderators kept the questions on serious matters, and weren't afraid of ruffling the candidates' feathers. For all of Newt Gingrich's carping about the "gotcha" questions, many of the non-Newt Gingrich contestants found ways to shine when they were put on the spot. Overall, it was a fast-moving, topical, riveting debate, and let's face it: it really put shame on CNN's game.

-- Jason Linkins

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Rick Santorum passively rebukes Bachmann: "Of course we need to raise the debt ceiling ... saying otherwise is showmanship, not leadership."

-- Jason Linkins

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Ron Paul: "I'm delighted that Main Street is catching up with us on auditing the Fed, this is great."

That's the theory that this Ron Paul campaign is testing: how far the country has swung in his direction. It's moved a lot closer to Paul's position in the past two years. Enough to win the Iowa Caucus?

-- Jason Linkins

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There is a growing divide among conservatives about whether the issue of same sex marriage should be left to the states under the 10th amendment. The majority of the presidential candidates support a constitutional amendment to outlaw the practice. But some of the candidates argue that until then, states have the right to allow it, while others argue they don't.

Mitt Romney said the issue of marriage "should be decided at the federal level," because people "move from state to state."

"Marriage is a status, not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state," he added. "As a result, our marriage-status relationships should be constant across the country. I believe we should have a federal amendment to the Constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and woman."

Jon Huntsman, who supports civil unions, said the issue should be left up to the states: "I believe in traditional marriage first and foremost. ... I also believe in civil unions. I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to equality. ... I believe this is something that ought to be discussed among the various states. I don't have any problem with states having this discussion."

The most hard-line -- and anti-states' rights -- on the issue was Rick Santorum. He touted the fact that in Iowa, where the debate was taking place, he helped throw out the justices who legalized marriage equality in the state. "I campaigned and worked to make sure those justices were defeated," he said.

"We can't have 50 marriage laws," he continued. "This was the approach the left took on abortion. ... That's where I disagree with Rick Perry, where I disagree with Michele Bachmann."

Bachmann reiterated her support for a federal amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Michele Bachmann is back at it, telling the audience that she opposes any attempt to actually pay for debts already incurred, preferring default. And numbers ... well, they are not her forte.

Bachmann: "Congress gave Obama a .4 million blank check."

Uhm...by definition, that's not a blank check.

-- Jason Linkins

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Mitt Romney said at Thursday night's debate that he was in favor of ending the current system of unemployment benefits, but did not support doing away with unemployment insurance altogether.

"If I were president right now," said the former Massachusetts governor, "I would go to Congress with a new system for unemployment [benefits], which would have [individual] accounts from which people could withdraw funds…"

How that would actually work, Romney didn't say. And he stressed repeatedly that he was against "endless unemployment benefits." Still, the mere idea that Romney would support some form of unemployment insurance is kind of noteworthy for this Republican field.

-- Sam Stein

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The biggest reason that Fred Karger is trying against long odds to qualify for a debate is so that he can bring his beef with Romney on marriage equality to the highest stage possible. Here's an unadulterated taste of the fight that Fred Karger wants: "Mitt Romney, your father would be ashamed of you. Federal marriage amendment, your Church make you say that?"

That wouldn't have been good television, Fox News Channel?

-- Jason Linkins

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The crowd did not appreciate Byron York asking Michele Bachmann about this part of a recent Washington Post profile:

"He is her godly husband," said Peter Bachmann, Dr. Bachmann's oldest brother, who lives on the family dairy farm across the eastern border in Wisconsin. "The husband is to be the head of the wife, according to God." It is a philosophy that Michele Bachmann echoed to congregants of the Living Word Christian Center in 2006, when she stated that she pursued her degree in tax law only because her husband had told her to. "The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands," she said.

When York asked about whether she was submissive, the crowd booed and hissed, loudly.

Bachmann batted it aside. "I respect my husband, he's a wonderful godly man, and we respect each other."

As I said at the time of the Post profile, "Bachmann's really comfortable being her own woman. She gets by in the House's "boy's club" just fine. When she wanted to issue a response to the State Of The Union address that would steal away from her party's official response, she asked for neither permission nor forgiveness. If Bachmann's been spending her career doing her husband's bidding rather than her own, it's not remarkably apparent." I'm honestly surprised this even came up as a question.

-- Jason Linkins

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Karger, just now: "Santorum sticking up for gays in Iran!? What about in the USA?"

-- Jason Linkins

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During a June debate, Mitt Romney said, "It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can -- as soon as our generals think it’s okay. One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.”

Politico interpreted it as a hint that "he’s eager to pull the plug on the war in Afghanistan."

But tonight, Romney disabused that notion, putting forth a position well within the mainstream of the GOP:

Sometime within the next two years, we are going to draw down our troop strength and reach a point where the Afghan military is able to preserve the sovereignty of their own nation from the tyranny of the Taliban. That has to happen. It's time for the troops of Afghanistan to take on that responsibility, according to -- as I said in the last debate -- according to the timetable established and communicated by the generals in the field.

Those generals recommended to President Obama we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012. He took a political decision to draw them down faster than that. That is wrong. We should follow the recommendation of the generals, and we should now look for the people of Afghanistan to pick up their fight and preserve that liberty that has been so dearly won.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry may not be participating in tonight's debate, but he's still stirring buzz on the Web. The Lone Star State Republican is topping the field on Google Trends:

-- Elyse Siegel

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Ron Paul isn't sweating Rick Perry at all. "He represents the status quo," Paul said.

Paul goes on to talk about his support for liberty and his distinct foreign policy ideas, and paints himself as the standout man in the race. Perry, Paul says, gesturing to the rest of the field, "will just cut in to all of their votes!"

Romney said that Perry would be a "net plus," if he entered. And Michele Bachmann isn't worried about the prospect of Sarah Palin entering the race at all, either. She likes Palin just fine. (Bachmann also probably knows that Perry's entry into the race will close off whatever room remained for Palin to run.)

-- Jason Linkins

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When moderator Chris Wallace gave Tim Pawlenty a chance to go after Mitt Romney on health care, this time, he didn't pass it up.

During a June debate, Pawlenty declined to use the word "Obamneycare" to slam the Massachusetts health care plan Romney signed into law, even though he had used the phrase earlier, raising questions about whether he was ready to go toe-to-toe with Romney.

Tonight, Pawlenty was more aggressive: "I don't want to miss that chance again, Chris. Look, Obamacare was patterned after Mitt's plan in Massachusetts. And for Mitt or anyone else to say there aren't substantial similarities or they are not essentially the same plan -- it just isn't credible. So that's why I called it Obamneycare, and I think that's a fair label. I'm happy to call it that again tonight."

Romney cited the 10th amendment to argue that Massachusetts had the right to implement its plan, whereas the federal Affordable Care Act was an overreach. When host Chris Wallace asked where in the Constitution it says that the government can implement an individual mandate, Romney challenged Wallace:

Are you familiar with the Massachusetts constitution? I am. The Massachusetts constitution allows states for instance, to say our kids have to go to school. It has that power. The question is, is that a good or bad idea? I understand different people come to different conclusions. What we did in our state was this: We said, we're finding people are going to the hospital and getting the state to pay for them. Taxpayers are picking up hundreds of millions of dollars of costs from people who are free riders. We said we are going to insist those people who can afford to pay for themselves do so. We believe in personal responsibility. ... That was our conclusion. The right answer for every state is to determine what is right for those states, not to impose Obamacare on the nation. That's why I would repeal it.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Fred Karger tells the Huffington Post that KING-TV out of Seattle, Wash., has swung by the bar and is chatting up the campaign.

Nevertheless, he's keeping up with the questions. On the immigration matter, he says, "I live in California. We need a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and bring home our troops to secure our borders."

-- Jason Linkins

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Pawlenty says that he regretted a fee levied on cigarette purchases, because his budget didn't end up needing the revenues it generated.

But Michele Bachmann was in the state legislature at the time, and she voted for the cigarette tax. So Byron York asked her why. According to Bachmann, she was put in a bind by Pawlenty, who "cut a deal with special interests" and attached the cigarette tax to a bill which, if she voted against it, would also be a vote against "protections for the unborn." In the end, she said, she chose to vote to "preserve the sanctity of life."

Pawlenty wanted to respond. "What's wrong with the answer is the answer." He denied that the cigarette tax was in any way connected to protections for the unborn. He insisted again that the difference between him and Bachmann was that he had a record of "leading and getting results."

Bachmann: "We need to have a POTUS that stands firm on their convictions."

Pawlenty: "Her answer is illogical."

Bachmann: "The governor chose to put us in the box, and I made a choice."

And around we go.

-- Jason Linkins

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Every single Republican presidential candidate said during Thursday night's debate that they would walk away from a deficit reduction deal that included ten dollars in every spending cut for one dollar in every tax increase.

That ratio, of course, would be an absurdly unbalanced deal weighted in the GOP's favor. But such is the need to observe anti-tax orthodoxy during the height of the Republican primary.

-- Sam Stein

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As happened earlier in the day while on the stump at the Iowa State Fair, Mitt Romney was asked to explain why, as governor of Massachusetts, he used the tax increases passed by the state legislature as a way to sell the state's fiscal soundness to the raters at Standard & Poor's.

He evaded an answer yet again.

"No I don't believe in raising taxes," he said, without actually addressing his presentation to S&P, a presentation that used the tax increases as a way to convince raters that Massachusetts deserved a AAA rating. "And as governor I cut taxes 19 times."

-- Sam Stein

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Fox News host and debate moderator Chris Wallace pushed Newt Gingrich on the fact that basically all of his staff has quit the campaign and his spending habits have left him in a huge financial hole.

The former House Speaker -- also former Fox News employee – wasn't amused.

"I took seriously [fellow host] Bret [Baier]'s injunction to put aside the talking points. I wish you would put aside the gotcha questions," he said, to some ooos and ahhhs.

Gingrich then went on to compare himself twice to Ronald Reagan, who had staff departures during his run for the White House in 1980.

Wallace didn't take it lightly. "If you think questions about your record are Mickey Mouse, I'm sorry," he said, with disdain. "I think those are questions people want to hear answers to."

-- Sam Stein

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Remarking on the extended battle of wits between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, Karger writes: "Maybe there is a pledge to sign that will set up a commission to end this."

-- Jason Linkins

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Chris Wallace can ruffle some feathers when he wants to, and he wasted no time in inflaming the tensions between Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann, asking Pawlenty, "Is she unqualified, or just beating you in the polls?"

Pawlenty's opening gambit was to try to be nice. He never criticized her migraines, he said, and the bigger headache was Barack Obama. But soon he went at her with his constant refrain: as a governor, he has a list of accomplishments, whereas Bachmann's is "non-existent."

"We need someone who can contrast with Barack Obama in terms of accomplishments."

Bachmann, given the chance to respond, was quick to escalate: "When you were governor, you implemented cap and trade and praised the individual mandate ... that sounds a lot more like Barack Obama to me." By contrast, she fought Obama, and "led against raising the debt ceiling."

Pawlenty was like Obama? "Isn't that the worst thing you can say" about a fellow candidate, Wallace asked. Bachmann said that she's proud of her record of fighting Obama. "That is what qualifies me," Bachmann stated firmly.

She also introduced the lightbulb freedom of choice act.

Pawlenty had no choice but to up the ante. "She has a record of making false statements," he complained. And then he went down her list of battles: "You fought Obamacare and we got Obamacare, you fought the debt ceiling deal and we got a debt ceiling deal," ranted Pawlenty. If that's her idea of leadership, Pawlenty said, "Please stop because you're killing us."

Bachmann got the last word: "I gave [Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid] a run for their money ... when others ran, I fought."

WATCH:

-- Jason Linkins

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Tim Pawlenty, clearly still smarting from his unwillingness to challenge Mitt Romney in the first GOP presidential debate, takes a dig at the former Massachusetts's governor's personal wealth in the second go around.

After criticizing President Barack Obama for not offering specific plans on a host of policy issues, the former Minnesota governor offers the crowd a bet.

"If you can find Barack Obama's specific plan on [any of those isses]," he said, "I will come to your house and cook you dinner. Or if you prefer I will come to your house and mow your lawn. In the case Mitt wins, I'm limiting it to one acre."

Romney, as is well known, is quite wealthy. During the 2008 campaign it was reported that he had five houses and adjacent property worth an estimated million.

-- Sam Stein

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Mitt Romney took a significant amount of heat today for his comment that "corporations are people too" when asked by an attendee at the Iowa State Fair why he was focusing on entitlement reforms as a means of deficit reduction instead of asking corporations to share part of the burden.

During the debate, he expounded on this a bit, trying to put big businesses and capitalism on the side of the people. He touted his experience in the private sector -- one of his most frequent talking points about his background and outlined his seven-point plan to stimulate the economy:

What needs to be done, there are really seven things that come to mind: One is to make sure our corporate tax rates are competitive with other nations. Number two is to make sure regulations and bureaucracy works not just for the bureaucrats in Washington but for businesses that are trying to grow. Number three is to have trade policies that work for us not just our opponents. Number four is energy policy that gets us energy secure. Number five is to have the rule of law. Six, great institutions that build human capital because capitalism is also about people -- not just capital and physical goods. And number seven, to have a government that doesn't spend more than it takes in.

-- Amanda Terkel

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The Karger campaign took their best shot at making it into tonight's debate, but the polls it provided to make its case weren't good enough for Fox News. Once again, he'll be joining us in exile, from the Karger viewing party at the Olde Maine Brewing Company in Ames.

He opens by saying: "Let's bring back some optimism to the nation. That's the president's job. Eight winners aren't going to put America back to work."

-- Jason Linkins

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Michele Bachmann says that we could have had recovery in three months if we hadn't raised the debt ceiling. It's an interesting concept: torpedoing the global economy and sending America into a default. Nevertheless, she says that "as it turns out, it was the right answer."

The "as it turns out" refers to the subsequent downgrade of the U.S. credit rating from S&P. That downgrade came because S&P saw governmental gridlock. The gridlock was caused by one side of the debate threatening to not raise the debt ceiling and, in so doing, bringing on default. Bachmann campaigned on defaulting.

I'll send along a message that Jim Newell sent along to Bachmann supporters earlier this week:

In the off-chance that any Michele Bachmann supporters are reading this, we've got to break it to you: If Michele Bachmann becomes president, she will raise the debt ceiling. She will break this promise not to ever raise it. She will do it. It will happen. Multiple times, probably. Michele Bachmann will sign a bill raising the debt ceiling, as president. That is a 100% guarantee. Carry on!

-- Jason Linkins

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@ dickmorristweet : #gopdebate #tcot #hannity Huntsman's line "it is coming" is pathetic

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@ samsteinhp : "i'm not going to eat barack obama's dog food," says Romney... i'm gonna serve it to my dog.... who's on the roof of my car

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@ samsteinhp : romney is literally going through his seven talking points

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@ aterkel : Bachmann thinks not increasing the debt ceiling would help the country see economic recovery in 3 months?

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