DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Seven Republican presidential contenders hope to use Thursday’s debate in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa to cast themselves as Mitt Romney’s strongest rival. Front-runner Romney’s day, meanwhile, got off to a rough start with a confrontation with voters at the Iowa State Fair.

The former Massachusetts governor, who lost the GOP nomination in 2008, faced tough questions on Social Security. Growing exasperated and raising his voice, Romney told one questioner, “If you want to speak, you can. But it’s my turn.”

As he wrapped up, he joked, “These guys up front won’t be voting for me.”

Romney is hoping things in Ames Thursday night more closely resemble a June debate in New Hampshire where he emerged largely unscathed. He enjoys a commanding lead in fundraising and opinion polls and wants to protect both by sticking to his message about the economy.

At least two of his rivals — Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, both of Minnesota — are hoping for a last-minute boost before an important weekend Iowa test vote that could make or break their campaigns. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is looking to make a strong impression in his first debate, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul is out to show his ideas are more mainstream than fringe.

Huntsman visited the fair with his family on Thursday and checked out a life-sized cow sculpted out of butter. He shook voters’ hands but bypassed the town hall-style meeting that vexed Romney.

Others struggling to gain traction — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, ex-Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and businessman Herman Cain — are seeking to promote their issues and maybe boost their profiles Thursday night.

All risk being overshadowed by one Republican who won’t be on the stage — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has signaled he’s likely to join the field in the coming days and will visit the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend.

“This is the official opening of the season,” said Republican strategist Terry Holt. “It’s the debut and you better have your best stuff ready. That raises the stakes.”

Romney showed that his barbs will be aimed at the president, telling his crowd at the state fair, “”If you want someone who will raise your taxes, you can vote for Barack Obama.”

It could be a winning strategy.

“For Gov. Romney, as the overall front-runner at this point, the key to any debate situation is to hold serve and continue to play to your strength, which is talking about the economy,” strategist Brian Jones said. “What’s been happening plays into the message of the Romney campaign.”

That was a reference to the recent debate in Washington over spending and a souring Wall Street, issues that have only emphasized the importance of the nation’s economy in the political debate. With unemployment stubbornly high and jobs not returning quickly enough, the Republicans are eager to go head-to-head with President Barack Obama in 2012.

His top rivals were determined to deny Romney that chance. Pawlenty, whose performance in a previous debate was panned when he initially refused to repeat the “Obamneycare” epithet he coined to link Romney’s health care law in Massachusetts with Obama’s national health overhaul, looked to repair his image and start anew.

“This is Pawlenty’s last chance,” GOP strategist Rich Galen said. “If he doesn’t do well, I suspect it’s three strikes and you’re out.”

Pawlenty knows he needs a strong showing if he’s to do well in the straw poll in Ames.

“The way forward for this country is going to start in Ames this Saturday,” Pawlenty told an audience in Atlantic, Iowa, on Wednesday. “It’s the end of the preseason in this campaign. This is the formal kickoff. I ask for your support. I need your help.”

He’s also hoping to deny Bachmann a triumph. During one interview, she was asked if she was a “flake.” Her first debate performance suggested she was not.

“I think that Bachmann has the most to gain and the most to lose. She is now a target where she wasn’t before,” former Republican Party of Iowa chairman Richard Schwarm said.

“The one who has the most to lose is Huntsman,” said Galen of Obama’s former ambassador to China. “A lot of people were hoping he would come on the scene and shake things up. There has been nothing.”

Huntsman aides said not to count him out.

“Jon Huntsman is going to demonstrate that he is the only leader who has a proven track record of conservative governance and job creation that the Republican nominee will need to beat President Obama next November,” spokesman Tim Miller said.

Yet in recent weeks, Huntsman has seen a raft of departures from his campaign, including his campaign manager.

That shake-up has paled in comparison to the one Gingrich suffered when his entire brain trust resigned earlier this year.

Laden with debt and having trouble raising money, Gingrich has severely curtailed his campaign schedule and is not participating in the straw poll. Santorum, too, has faced fundraising and polling troubles but has worked the grass-roots activists in Iowa to build support among social conservatives.

“Obviously the front-runner is Gov. Romney and he has got to maintain his position in the race,” Republican strategist Danny Diaz said. “The others will want to use this as a way to build some momentum.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (32)
  1. Mark from Minnesota Tax Waste says:

    Bachmann Yes!! Pawlenty not so much!

    1. You Don't say says:

      BACHMANN? Please kill her with fire, now go drink your koolaid you mindless sheep.

      1. John says:

        Very well stated,

    2. Heather G says:

      Hey Mark, if only she could do like the scarecrow and ask for a brain. I demand to see her report cards.

    3. Heather G says:

      Mark, do you know what might help you to get over your crush? Try closing your eyes and listen to her speak. If you detach the pretty old lady face from the BS coming out of her mouth you’ll be able to think with the head on your shoulders.

    4. th says:

      Are you kidding. Someone who pushes her out of touch religious beliefs on anyone she talks to. She is a nut case

      1. Tom says:

        @ You dont say, Heather G, th

        You have to take into consideration the people they are trying ti impress. Not the brightest bulbs on the tree, but definately the nuttiest!

  2. jeff says:

    Mark from Minnesota Tax Waste NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    1. Wachmann says:

      I wonder how many times a day Mark salutes MB.

      1. Tom says:

        @ Wachmann

        There is naughty comment there but i don’t want to get blocked or scolded by WCOO, so just use your imagination lol. But I am sure Mark is doing something else.

  3. Murph says:

    Guaranteed,more crying there, than all the newborns in all the hospitals in the U.S.A.will make in month! What a sorry collection of nincompoops this latest GOP clown parade is! Pawlenty deserves not a single vote and the others are almost as self serving and prone to dingbat nonsense as he is,especially Bachmann!

    1. Wachmann says:

      I can sum up the debate in a few words, REPUBLICANS: “IT’S ALL OBAMA’S FAULT.”

      1. American made says:

        Kind of like every speech Obama gives. Its all the Republicans fault. Right Wachmann

        1. Heather G says:

          Have you paid attention to what he says? He’s the most centrist president I’ve seen in my lifetime. He tries very hard not to, although he should defend himself from the hateful rhetoric.

  4. airs on fox at 8 says:

    cuz it didn’t say

    1. Murph says:

      What a shock on FAUX? ,the favorite channel of mindless Zombies everywhere! Who’d a thunk it!

      1. TM says:

        Murph all you can do is attack, give facts for once all you do is make yourself sound foolish,

  5. republicans... says:

    ish, ish, ISH!!

  6. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    Mindless Zombies everywhere…with a viewership higher than MSNBC/ CNN combined. I guess the majority of cable news viewers in the country are Mindless Zombies…because we want to hear more than Democratic talking points…If you don’t think that directionless POTUS is not at least somewhat culpable for the economic mess we are in, you are wearing blinders. It is a bit late to be blaming Bush, but I think he will do that until Nov 2012. (from an Independent voter)

    1. Reality sucks says:

      Funnier yet—the prez is meeting with the master of “Reaganomics” to try to fix this thing. I guess no one has told him that the stop clock hit zero, the fed just took us 2 steps back and Congress needs to sit through a long refresher course in economics and statesmanship before they fight the cuts that need to be made. “Austerity in America”. Has a ring to it.

  7. Tea Party says:

    How can you Lib’s even make a CASE for ANY Left Winger!!!

    Look at the economy…..Look at the recent elections in WI…..Look at the NEW calculation that shows your beloved President Obama’s health care cost 50 BILLION MORE than anticipated!

    I love ALL of my MN neighbors….so it’s NOT a personal issue…..but let’s face it…the left has FAILED!!!

    You guys had your chance…and you FAILED….

    You all say “wait for election time…..” Well…I am SURE you will be eating crow then….and you know why? Not only because you were WRONG…bun in addition to the ECONOMY being in the toilet! Thanks to your “savior”!

    1. Tom says:

      @ Tea Party

      Did Bush leave Obama a big surplus that we don’t know about when you mentione economy? How many jobs were we losing a month before Obama came into office. You bring up the fact that Healthcare is costing 50 billion more that anticipated, well we were first told that the wars in Afgan and Iraq qas only going to cost us a couple of billion and before Obama took office it was in the trillions And the Right failed us between 2000 – 2006 with their big spendiing spree and we didn’t exactly have conservatives complaining then. So I don’t think the Right have any reason to give themselves a big pat on the back like you are givng them.

      As far as the recall election in Wisc goes yes the GOP / Tea Party came out on top and I saw those people celebrating. But quite frankly I wouldn’t be proud if I were them because they are basically saying we are enjoying being asked to bend over and grab our ankles to protect the rich people in Wisc. We enjoy being their slaves!

      And since the Bush taxes became law and extended twice we have seen how many jobs created and how many jobs lost. But quite frankly since the GOP / Tea party believe that cutting taxes creates jobs there should not have been a recession, but we did. Huge GOP / Tea Party failure.

      And if conservatives like you hate the out control spending why didn’t you vote Bush and the GOP out of office back in 2004 instead of giving them 4 more years? Aparently you hated spending but not enough to vote Bush and the GOP out of office.

      1. Reality sucks says:

        Are we going to keep the blame game going all the way back to Nixon or focus on the current issues and the non-solutions coming out of Washington? The real ?’s are how much more in debt are we, how many jobs have been lost, and why wasn’t the promise to have the wars end fulfilled. The right now of it all helps determine if you want to continue in yesteryear or move on.

      2. Purple Tea says:

        I can agree with part of your response…..

        I agree…there WERE things WE as voters should have done, but did not…..

        And I’m sorry if that post came across as “aggressive” but I can’t tell you how many posts I read with left wing not jobs with “WELLSTONE” stickers still on their Honda Accords…saying “Let the people vote” and “we can’t wait”….and we have the response they said would NEVER happen.

        You know what I HATE……People that are just as far RIGHT as the people that are just as far LEFT!!!! (Again…not on a personal level…but in their stance on what they “fight” for)

        I have to agree…Bush was NOT the best fiscal GOP president…..but what was our option? He was the best option we had at the time….

        As far as Obama? He ASKED for this job…..he said “vote for me and vote for CHANGE” We did get change…..for the WORSE! Obama KNEW what he was in for and said he had the answers…..and yet we are STILL worse off than we were when he entered office and are getting WORSE!

        TARP FAILED…….
        Stimulus FAILED…….
        Healthcare not thought out and costing us MORE money….
        Banks in turmoil

        I give you this though….He HAS caught Osama……and the situation in Europe is NOT his fault…..but his fiscal policy and guidance is TERRIBLE.

        So, I agree…..the GOP is NOT “free and clear” here…..but it’s tough to blame them when the “change” we receive has been nothing but negative….

  8. soapboxgod says:

    The debate will come down to Ron Paul vs. everyone else.

    1. Agreed says:

      I 100% agree. Newt will garner the jargon points but Ron Paul will blow the ship up with reality. I just threw $2500 at Paul’s campaign. Not because I think he has a chance. Because I hope he does

      1. Ron Paul is a phony says:

        That is a lot of money to flush away, dude.

        1. agreed--not this time says:

          Your opinion I suppose. And yes, it’s a lot of money. But, I like the guy and certainly don’t find him to be a phony. The rest of the candidates and our current president, yes. They are phony.

          1. Black Tea says:

            Herman Cain? Phony?

            I tell you this….he would be our 1st BLACK Prez……


            1. Agreed says:

              Nah, I’m okay with Herman too. Anyone who is moderate, speaks the actual truth knowing we can handle it–fiscally, and supports the libertarian/independent ideal is my guy. I’m not hurtin’, I am fortunate to have some money, I can afford to donate to one at a time so i chose Ron. If Herman goes further than Ron, I will dig out some more money and support him. I hope this little conversation here actually happens. I hope one of these 2 can compete with the strong arm of the GOP. That’s why I gave and hope to give again.

              1. Red Tea says:

                I think I’ll take the same path….I have a feeling MN will be a red state this time around…..

                1. Agreed says:

                  And a really nice shade of red, I think. These 2 guys aren’t about getting lobbied. They aren’t about holding corporate hands. These 2 are about the American people and what needs to be done. They don’t even lie about it needing to hurt a little. I especially appreciate the desire they have to push out wall street and talk main street. All the other candidates up there tonight are already owned by somebody. Nobody owns Ron or Herman.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

More From WCCO | CBS Minnesota

Good Question
Best Of Minnesota

Watch & Listen LIVE