Romney attacked on all fronts in final NH debate

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MANCHESTER, NH -- As the nation's presidential primary approaches, it was made known that the gloves are off as candidates attacked frontrunner Mitt Romney from all sides in the final debate Sunday in New Hampshire.

"Can we drop some of the pious baloney? The fact is, you ran in '94 and lost. The fact is you have a very bad reelection rating," said Newt Gingrich. "You dropped out of office."

Romney deflected the early attack, emphasizing that he is most equipped to beat President Barack Obama.

With his background as a corporate CEO, Utah Olympic chief and Massachusetts governor, as well as his organization and funding, Mitt Romney seems to be making good on his claim, and making his way through the state as the frontrunner.

"I think he's got the wherewithal, I think he's got the business experience," said one Romney supporter, Peter Price of Atkinson, NH. "I think he's shown his mettle, so to speak."

Romney contributes this, in part, to the proximity of his former state of governorship.

"They've got my record. That's the great thing about the people of New Hampshire is they see what I did as governor of Massachusetts," Romney said.


Three contenders with Congressional experience are vying to be the anti-Romney alternative for conservatives to rally around. The most polar opposite of Romney is Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who is an anti-war, anti-big government, anti-Fed dissident.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, from Georgia, who lost frontrunner status in a flood of negative ads, aims to derail Romney and be the big-idea guy.

"I think that a bold Reagan conservative with a very strong economic plan is a lot more likely to succeed in that campaign," he said.

Jon Huntsman gave one of his strongest debate performances so far. But his no-nonsense tax reform theme seemed to rally a limited number of converts, placing him third in polls within the state.

"We are just so chuck full of loopholes and deductions, it weighs down our tax structure to the tune of $1 trillion, 100 billion. You can't compete that way," Huntsman said.

Like Huntsman, the other candidates repeated familiar themes. Santorum played the social conservative, Paul the anti-war and anti-Federal reserve, and Perry called for a balanced budget and Congressional-term limits.

They took their best shot and Mitt Romney deflected them and came out stronger.

–- Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney spokesperson

In the so-called 'spin room' a spokesman for Romney said his candidate weathered the attack of the debate well.

"Sort of reminded me of that old Pat Benetar song, ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot,' " said Eric Fehrnstrom. "They took their best shot and Mitt Romney deflected them and came out stronger."

But Huntsman's campaign is still working hard, still pushing, still hoping for a win on Tuesday.

"One person, Mitt Romney, puts politics first," said John Weaver, Huntsman campaign strategist. "We're going to drive that home today, Tuesday, and then in South Carolina."

Meanwhile, an eager and politically tuned-in crowd waited outside the debate in Concord New Hampshire. Many people are planning on voting Tuesday, but not all are sure who they're voting for.

"I am not seeing a huge difference between any of them. So in the end I think it's going to be who I think has the most personal integrity," said one undecided voter, William Fahey.

Political experience is just one credential voters are weighing this year, in addition to what kind of GOP nominee they'd like to see and where they fit in the political spectrum.

Written by Richard Piatt and John Daley.

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