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Rick Santorum under fire at Republican debate

Yep, another debate.

Image: Jae C. Hong/AP/Press Association Images

THE TWENTIETH (20th!) DEBATE of the Republican Party primary season took place last night, pitting one-time favourite Mitt Romney against the surging popularity of Rick Santorum.

Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also took part in the televised Arizona debate, which will probably be the final one of the campaign.

CNN moderator John King put forward questions about taxes, birth control, government bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry, Iran and other foreign policy.

The four remaining candidates face key contests over the next 12 days. First up are the Arizona and Michigan primaries on Tuesday, followed by caucuses in Washington four days later.

Super Tuesday falls on 6 March during which ten states will cast their votes.

During last night’s debate, Romney teamed up with Gingrich and Paul to challenge Santorum at every turn.

His spending while in Congress, his plans for healthcare and his past voting record on the debt ceiling were all used to undermine his lead in the latest polls.

Romney also used the opportunity to portray himself as a “severe conservative” once more in attempts to buck the misconception that he will not be purist enough for hard-line GOP members.

Reminding Santorum of his own 2008 endorsement, Romney told his rival that he described him as “really conservative” and trustworthy.

In other key moments, Santorum again promised to “de-fund” Planned Parenthood if he become the next President of the United States. The organisation provides health care, sex education and information about family planning to adolescents and adults across the country.

All four candidates hit out at the present administration when they could – especially on its foreign policy record. In one of the strongest statements of the night, Gingrich said that under Obama “as long as you are America’s enemy, you are safe”.

There were some moments of humour throughout. Santorum touched his arm to remind Ron Paul (and us all) that he is in fact a real person and “not a fake”.

When asked to describe themselves using one word, Gingrich responded “cheerful” – a playful jibe back at criticisms that he is too serious. Incidentally, Paul’s word was “consistent”, Santorum’s “courage” and Romney’s “resolute”.

In all, 518 Republican National Convention delegates are at stake between 28 February and 6 March – that is three times the number awarded in the states that have voted since the beginning of the year. It takes 1,144 to win the nomination to face Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential election in November.

So, who’s likely to win?

Nationally, Santorum leads Romney by 35 per cent to 27 per cent, according to the daily Gallup tracker. However, when pitted against Obama, Romney leads and Santorum lags behind the Democratic candidate.

Romney is slightly ahead of Obama, 50 per cent to 46 per cent, while Obama edges Santorum, 49 per cent to 48 per cent, but neither of these differences is statistically significant.

Meanwhile, recent good news on the economic and jobs fronts, as well as some well-timed charismatic appearances have improved Obama’s ratings.

The country as a whole is actually more optimistic and Obama has benefited from the post-recession attitude. Another new poll shows that both Republicans and Democrats believe the country is now heading in the right direction while most independents approve of the incumbent’s handling of the current situation.

Although tackling unemployment remains a priority for the Obama administration, reducing pump prices is now of key importance as consumers struggle with rising costs. He has started to talk about domestic oil and gas exploration, as well as the development of new forms of energy.

Read: Surge in support for Santorum puts him up front with Romney>

More from TheJournal.ie‘s coverage of the GOP Primaries>

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