- Republicans (USA) - USA
Sparring Republicans turn guns on Obama in debate
Republican US presidential hopefuls, including front-runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, faced off in a debate in Iowa on Thursday but aimed their barbs at US President Barack Obama instead of each other.
Republican White House hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took aim at President Barack Obama -- not each other -- Thursday in their final debate before the first nominating event in Iowa.
"I believe I can debate Barack Obama and I think in seven three-hour debates, Barack Obama will not have a leg to stand on in trying to defend a record that is terrible and an ideology that is radical," Gingrich said in opening remarks in a debate hosted by Fox News.
Romney slammed Obama for trying to "appease or accommodate the tyrants of the world" and cited his weak response in trying to retrieve a drone brought down in Iran.
"Foreign policy based on pretty please? You have to be kidding," Romney said.
Romney also attacked Obama's economic record after refusing to take the bait when moderators asked him to take on Gingrich.
"I think the president will level the same attack," Romney said when asked to respond to earlier comments by Gingrich that the former governor of Massachusetts should give back the millions he earned bankrupting companies while working at a private equity group.
"In the real world that the president has not lived in... not every business succeeds," he said.
Romney noted that the businesses his firms invested in created tens of thousands of jobs. "I believe I learned from the successes and the failures," he said.
While the frontrunners worked to keep it positive and avoid any serious gaffes after a week of trading blows, they also had to fight off attacks by rivals seeking to raise their profile -- and poll numbers.
Conservative darling Michele Bachmann blasted Gingrich for collecting $1.6 million in "influence peddling" fees from government-owned mortgage lender Freddie Mac, a target of conservative critics.
"What she just said is factually not true. I never lobbied under any circumstance," Gingrich shot back.
"Second, I want to state unequivocally for every person watching tonight: I have never once changed my positions because of any kind of payment."
The former House speaker said he was "doing just fine" with earnings from book sales and appearance fees and accepted a consulting job with Freddie Mac because of its important role in making sure "people have a chance to buy a house."
Given up as politically dead months ago, Gingrich surged to the front of the pack last month as early contenders Rick Perry and Herman Cain saw their support collapse amidst big blunders and sex scandals.
While he retains the lead nationally, he saw support fall 12 points in a poll of Iowa voters released Wednesday which saw Romney back on top of the unsettled field less than three weeks before the state's January 3 caucuses.
The largely rural midwestern state barely figures in the general election, but has become key to narrowing the field in the presidential nominating contests.
Romney won the support of 23 percent of Iowa voters while Gingrich sank to 20 percent in the Rasmussen Report poll.
Longshot candidate Ron Paul garnered 18 percent, while Texas Governor Rick Perry and Bachmann held 10 percent and nine percent respectively.
A strong showing in Iowa provides powerful momentum going into New Hampshire, which votes on January 10, and the more populous South Carolina and Florida, which vote on January 21 and January 31, respectively.
While Romney has struggled to win the favor of the party's conservative base, he has consistently polled at or near the front of the pack while his rivals rise and fall.
"We've seen a pattern -- a candidate rises to become the frontrunner primarily on the basis of not being Mitt Romney and as soon as they hit that frontrunner status, the numbers begin to turn around," pollster Scott Rasmussen said.
That fall was "very pronounced" for Gingrich, who has come under attack from his Republican rivals, Democrats and religious conservatives uncomfortable with his marital infidelity.