The night started with a few early jabs between the current front-runner and the former leader in the polls.
However, the focus of the GOP presidential debate Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library shifted repeatedly to job creation, overregulation, national security, the need to repeal Obamacare, and a collective desire to replace the Democratic president.
The tea party movement seeking small government and a decrease in government spending was rarely mentioned in name. But those opinions dominated the comments of the candidates throughout the nearly two-hour forum.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the eight candidates invited to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., said the media simply want a fight between the candidates.
Instead, he said, the focus of all eight at the debate -- sponsored by Politico, NBC News and the Reagan Foundation -- is to replace President Obama and repeal the Democratic health-care plan.
Every person up here on the stage thinks Obamacare is a disaster, Gingrich said. If this president had any concern for working Americans, hed walk in Thursday night and ask us to repeal it.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, making his first appearance since officially entering the race last month, and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, both said theyd issue executive orders their first day in office to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
We need to have an individual to lead this country who not only loves America but has the experience to get us back on track of being competitive globally, Romney said.
U.S. Rep Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, calling the health-care law one of the key issues of 2012, said it is so cumbersome an executive order will not overturn the plan.
It will take a strong leader, she said.
Bachmann, who also argued Obama has weakened the United States militarily, maintained all health-care decisions, including inoculations, should be up to individual families.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas offered some of the sharpest contrast to the others on the stage, saying private industry, including the pharmaceutical and aviation industries, should be trusted to regulate themselves. He also supported eliminating minimum-wage laws.
We dont need government running our lives, he said.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman,who said he is standing up for science in accepting the theory of climate change caused by human activities and the teaching of evolution,called unemployment a "crisis" situation and repeatedly referred to job growth in Utah during his term.
When asked by a moderator about the nation's safety since 9/11, Huntsman said, "I think we've lost our confidence as a country. Our innocence has been shattered."
Businessman Herman Cain touted what he calls his "9-9-9 plan," which would replace the current tax code with a 9 percent tax on corporate income, a 9 percent tax on personal income and a 9 percent national sales tax.
If 10 percent is good enough for God, 9 percent should be good enough for the federal government, said Cain, a Baptist minister.This economy is on life support, we do not need a solution that just trims around the edges.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania did little to stand out in the forum, but caught some attention when he claimed to be hearing "isolationist" views from some of the others on stage, such as Paul and Huntsman.
Ronald Reagan was committed to an America that was a force for good around the world, Santorum said. We could have been a source for good from the very get-go in Libya, but this president was indecisive, confused from the very beginning. He only went along with the Libya mission because the United Nations told him to, which is something Ron Reagan would have melted like the Wicked Witch of the West before he would have let that happen.
Some political prognosticators expected the night to be a pile-on of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who jumped atop a number of recent polls and was making his first debate appearance.
Instead Perry took the first swing, saying his state created more jobs "in the last three months in Texas" than Massachusetts did in Romneys term from 2003 to 2007.
Romney responded by saying that if Perry thinks he created those Texas jobs, "its like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet."
Perry countered that response, sayingthat Massachusetts had more job growth under former Gov. Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, than under Romney.
The two also clashed on Social Security, with Perry standing by the comments from his book Fed Up! that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme" and Romney defending the program.
The GOP field's presidential candidates will be in Florida for debates on Sept. 12 in Tampa and Sept. 22 in Orlando.
Contact Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.