The primary season's first debate lacks any of the prospective candidates leading in the polls.
President Obama’s leadership on national security was attacked by potential Republican challengers in the primary season’s first debate, a forum that lacked any of the prospective candidates leading in the polls.
The session, sponsored by the South Carolina Republican Party and broadcast live on the Fox News cable channel, came four days after a U.S. raid on a compound in Pakistan had killed Osama bin Laden, boosting the Democratic president’s foreign-policy credentials.
“He did a good job, and I tip my cap to him in that moment,” former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in the debate.
The raid, though, is “not the sum total” of Obama’s national-security record, and in other areas he has been lacking, he said.
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Pawlenty, 50, was joined by four others in a gathering that underscored the unformed nature of the Republican contest before nomination caucuses and primaries start next year.
Absent from the debate stage at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C., were potential candidates with more celebrity star power, such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and real-estate developer Donald Trump.
Also absent were two of those who have led in the early polling of potential candidates: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Others participating in the 90-minute debate were U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Herman Cain, a former chairman of Godfather’s Pizza.
“If you look at what President Obama has done right in foreign policy, it has always been a continuation of the Bush policies,” said Santorum, 52. “He’s done right by finishing the job in Iraq. He’s done right by trying to win in Afghanistan. Those were existing policies that were in place.”
With the exception of Cain, all of those on the stage said that if they were in the White House, they would release a photo of bin Laden’s corpse.
With the al-Qaida leader dead, Paul called on the U.S. to remove troops from Afghanistan.
“It is a wonderful time for this country now to reassess it, and get the troops out of Afghanistan,” said Paul, 75.
Johnson, 58, was booed by some in the audience when he said he supports abortion rights. “I support a woman’s right to choose up until viability of the fetus,” he said, adding that he opposes the use of public money to pay for abortions.
Santorum was asked to comment on a statement made last year by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, another potential presidential candidate who passed on the debate, and who has said the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues” until the economic crisis is resolved.
“Anybody that would suggest that we call a truce on the moral issues doesn’t understand what America is all about,” Santorum said. He said the sanctity of marriage and protecting life stemmed from the fundamental founding principles and “if we abandon that, we have given up on America.”
Cain, who supported Romney in 2008, said he was running because his party needs a new set of faces.
“Back then, I saw his business experience,” he said. “I’m running now, rather than supporting Mr. Romney, because he did not win, so I’m going to try my time.”