One word describes the third GOP Presidential Debate cosponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party of Iowa was held in Ames, IA – fiery.  A definite difference in the mood and temperament of the candidates tonight, and the line of questioning that pitted candidates against one another and contrasted records.  Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty certainly did not make the same mistake that he did in the previous debate.  Pawlenty went after Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  Former Senator Rick Santorum went after Bachmann and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.  Paul went after Texas Governor Rick Perry who wasn’t present.  Former Speaker Newt Gingrich went after Chris Wallace.  Former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain played nice…. maybe they’re closet Minnesotans.

The economy led off with a discussion of how to foster job creation and economic growth. Bachmann said she has led on not raising the debt ceiling, and said that Obama will be a one term President.  Romney unlike Bachmann said he wouldn’t put a time table to economic recovery.  He laid out a five point plan.  He also pointed to his support of the “cut, cap and balance” plan.  He would not raise the ceiling without significant cuts.

Paul focused on restoring sound money and said you don’t “bail out the people who are bankrupt and dump the debt on the people.”  Cain said the top thing he would do is to make the tax breaks permanent and take the capital gains tax to zero.  He said it was imperative to get the economy going in 90 days.  Huntsman said he’d do exactly what he did as Governor of Utah – cut taxes, create a business friendly environment.  Gingrich the Historian pointed to what Reagan did, and what the Republican Congress did during the Clinton Administration… pointing to the 4.2% unemployment they had then.

Pawlenty pointed to his economic plan on his website.  He asked where Obama’s plan.  He said if anybody can find Obama’s specific plan on anything he’d come to their house and cook their dinner or mow their lawn.  He said to Romney if he won that challenge he’d limit it to one acre.  Santorum pointed to his four point plan that would help bring manufacturing jobs back to the America, and cutting corporate taxes for manufactures.

Chris Wallace focused on Bachmann and Pawlenty and asked him, “is it that Congresswoman Bachmann hasn’t accomplished anything or is it that she’s leading you in the polls?”  Ouch.  He said she doesn’t have any accomplishments in the Congress and pointed out his record of accomplishments.

Bachmann pointed out his praise of cap and trade, individual mandate and his statement saying “the era of small government is over.”  She said his polices reminded her of Barack Obama.  Pawlenty pointed out she didn’t criticize him when he was Governor he said, “you fought against Obamacare we have Obamacare, you fought against TARP, we have TARP.  If this is your record of accomplishment, please stop.”

The era of Minnesota nice is over.  I think Bachmann won that exchange, but Pawlenty did get a nice zinger in.

Wallace asked Romney that he was going to lead job growth after leading a state that was 47th in job creation… nice.

At this point I felt this debate was already better than the New Hampshire debate, challenging questions and good contrast.

Gingrich said “you asked us to put aside our talking points, I am going to ask you to put away the gotcha questions” after being asked about the state of his campaign.  He said I’m going to campaign on ideas, and that instead the press corps wants to play “mickey mouse games.”

Wallace challenged Huntsman on his support of civil unions and the stimulus and his service as Ambassador of China.  Huntsman replied  that he was proud of his service, and said he said the stimulus was failed and needed more tax breaks.

Wallace asked Cain about his misstatements… Cain said he has learned more about the Palestinian issue, Afghanistan, and that he would not apologize about saying Sharia law doesn’t belong in the courts.

Turing to immigration, Huntsman said the border needs to be secure before we can address anything else related to illegal immigration.  Romney said we need foster legal immigration, but that we need to secure the border and crack down on those who hire illegal immigrants.  Cain pointed out a four-point plan on curbing illegal immigration and said he believed in empowering the states.  “We can have high fences and wide open doors.”  Gingrich’s said Obama hasn’t led and instead engages in partisan attacks, he said we need a comprehensive plan, but he hasn’t led.  Paul said we’re focusing to much on other countries borders than our own.  He said businessmen should become policeman.

Byron York brought the debate back to the economy by focusing on taxes and spending.  Romney said he had cut spending and balanced the budget.  Massachusetts had a credit upgrade, and he pointed out Obama’s credit downgrade.  Pawlenty was asked about his support of the “health impact fee” on cigarettes.  He pointed out his A rating by Cato, spending cuts, balancing the budget, and health care reform that he said has done it.  Barack Obama hasn’t.

Bachmann voted in favor of the fee in Minnesota, she fought against it, and said that she ultimately voted for it because it because the deal included a prolife measure.  She said she believe in the Sanctity of Life and that she could get money wrong, but she can never get life wrong to thunderous applause.

Pawlenty said pointed out that America doesn’t need “fighting and failing, but fighting and getting results.”  He said he has, and Bachmann hasn’t.

Santorum said, “you may see more of me in your hometown on television, and that holds true tonight,” responding to being asked few questions.  Gingrich said, the “super committee is the dumbest idea” he’s seen come out of Washington (I’m sure there have been dumber).

On to healthcare reform…. Wallace pitted Pawlenty and Romney again  Pawlenty said he’s happy to call Mitt Romney’s plan “Obamneycare” again.  He said that Romney wouldn’t be able to show contrast on health care reform.  He also pointed out that he appointed pro-abortion justices while Pawlenty appointed a conservative Supreme Court.

Romney responded that he liked Pawlenty’s answer in the last debate better.  He made a 10th Amendment argument, and that every state should be able to make these decisions themselves.

Wallace asked Romney about the Constitutionality of the individual mandate.  Romney said that Wallace wasn’t familiar with the Massachusetts Constitution.  That states can do it, but the Federal government can’t.  Bachmann said it is unconstitutional at the state and federal level.

Paul said that states have the right to do bad things.  Santorum said that he has seen the 10th Amendment run amok.  He said states do not have the right to do wrong.  We are a nation with moral laws, and pointed out Bachmann’s inconsistency on fighting states on health care while saying she wouldn’t on marriage (from the New Hampshire debate).  He said challenging Paul that based on his statement states could force sterilization and the federal government can’t do anything about it.

And I knew it… Texas Governor Rick Perry was mentioned in the lightning round, as well as Sarah Palin since she is going to be in Iowa this week.

On to foreign policy/national security… Pawlenty said Obama is winding down Afghanistan too fast, faster than the timetable General Petreaus gave with the surge.  He said we need to wind down, but not as fast.  Romney said it is time for the Afghan army to stand up against the tyranny of the Taliban, but that the draw down should in accordance with the advice of the generals in the field.

Gingrich said that we need to rethink everything in the region, and need a national debate on the way forward.  Huntsman would consider cyber attacks as an act of war.  He said we need to get our relationship with China right, and he’s been at it for 30 years.  He said it is time

Pawleny on Iran said we need to take every attempt to deny them a nuclear weapon.  Pawlenty attacked Obama on not calling Assad of Syria to resign, he said he has a “naïve foreign policy” and he has “stuck his thumb” in the eye of our closest ally in the Middle East.

Paul said he was fine with Iran having an nuclear weapon.  He thinks sanctions make it worse.  He said we need to have open trade relationships.  Santorum said to Paul, “Iran is not Iceland Ron.”  That they have been responsible for killing numerous American citizens, and that a nuclear Iran is Israel’s worst nightmare.  Bachmann said that Iran is a state sponsor of terror, and that she would do everything in her power to keep them from becoming a nuclear state.  Santorum said that someone who thinks Iran isn’t a threat isn’t seeing things clearly, and that approaching Iran thinking we need to apologize is no different than Barack Obama.  He said that we shouldn’t apologize for exercising our influence to promote freedom around the world.

Paul said that Iran isn’t a threat because they don’t have an air force than can come here, and they can’t make their own gasoline.

On to social issues….

Gingrich was asked about a loyalty test for Muslims.  Gingrich said we need security provisions across the board to ensure the loyalty of those in government positions.  Byron York asked Congressman Bachmann, “if you were President would you submit to your husband.”  She said that submission means respect, mutual respect.

Mitt Romney said that marriage should be a federal issue because people move from state to state.  He supports a federal marriage amendment.  Huntsman said he believes in traditional marriage, but believes in civil unions because our country needs to do a better job with reciprocal rights.  He also said it should be left at the local level.  Paul doesn’t want the federal government to be involved, less government.  He doesn’t think the polygamy argument made by Santorum is reality.

Santorum said that it is reality, and it is being litigated right now, and he said that is how gay marriage came to Iowa through the courts.  He said we don’t need 50 definitions of marriage.  Bachmann affirmed her support of the federal marriage amendment.

Santorum was asked if he his abortion views were too extreme by being against abortion even in the case of rape.  He said that we have our morals off if it isn’t ok to put a rapist to death, but ok to put the innocent child to death.  Pawlenty said National Review declared him to be the most prolife candidate in the race based on results, not rhetoric.  He did say that if abortion is illegal then doctors should have criminal and civil sanctions, not the mothers.

Final thoughts: Mitt Romney’s defense of Romneycare was weak.  His answers on the marriage issue, however was solid.  Herman Cain did much better this debate, and did an excellent job explaining his position on Muslims in government and that Shaira.  I also appreciated his comment on education when he said the “Federal government should be out of the business of micromanaging education.”  Right on.  Whether this performance was enough to give him a boost we’ll see on Saturday during the Ames Straw Poll.

Bachmann looked irritated, and not prepared to be put on the defensive.  Her answers were not as substantative as the others.  I don’t believe she was hurt by this debate, but I don’t think she gained either.  Pawlenty did what he needed to do in order to try to gain ground.  He went on the offensive, but candidates walk a fine line doing that without alienating voters.  I felt for Santorum in the first half of the debate being practically ignored, but he more than made up for it toward the end.  He certainly demonstrated his social conservative bona fides and his knowledge of foreign policy.

I like many of Ron Paul’s economic positions, but his comments about Iran demonstrate a naiveté that is frankly dangerous.  No Iran doesn’t have a strong air force.  You don’t need one to provide terrorists material for a dirty bomb.  He may have very well lost people who were on the bubble considering supporting him.

Good debate as it gave voters plenty to think about.

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