The Chase 2012

Gingrich and Santorum Draw Swords, Slam Romney on Healthcare

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — GOP candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, used the CNN debate as the chance to resurrect their struggling campaigns by striking hard at the one topic that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney remains weak on: his state’s healthcare plan.

The seven (former Utah governor Jon Huntsman boycotted the debate because of Nevada pushing up its primary date and denying New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status) GOP presidential hopefuls took the stage in Las Vegas hoping to gain a surge in the polls before the longest break of the debate season begins. The latest CNN poll has Gov. Romney and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain neck and neck as the top choices to seize the Republican nomination. 

However, the fireworks came from the ‘second-tier’ candidates, notably former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as they set their eyes squarely on Romney, calling out his healthcare plan in Massachusetts. The first salvo was launched by Santorum when he questioned Romney’s credibility when he says he’d repeal ObamaCare. 

“Your consultants helped Obama craft ObamaCare.  And to say that you’re going to repeal it, you just — you have no track record on that that — that we can trust you that you’re going to do that,” Santorum said. After the crosstalk, and some booing, ceased, Romney responded with the same talking point that what he did in Massachusetts was for Massachusetts only and that he would not impose it on the American people: “It was something crafted for a state. And I’ve said time and again, ObamaCare is bad news. It’s unconstitutional. It costs way too much money, a trillion dollars. And if I’m president of the United States, I will repeal it for the American people,” Romney said.

The heat didn’t let up on Romney when Gingrich took his shot on Romney’s Massachusetts health plan. The former Speaker cited a Boston Herald story from Tuesday that Boston bureaucrats are fining a small business because their health plan was inadequate. Romney has been dodging these shots the entire debate season and has remained stoic throughout, but this time was the most frustrated we’ve seen Romney when answering this question. Romney struck back hard, and even caught Gingrich in a rare unhinged moment.

“Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you,” responded Romney  when given the go-ahead from debate moderator Anderson Cooper. “That’s not true,” remarked Gingrich. As he and Romney went back and forth over whether Newt or the Heritage Foundation were the true, original backers of the individual mandate, Romney pounded and eventually forced Newt to admit that he supported an individual mandate against Hillarycare in the 1990s. 

Speaker Gingrich has seen a resurgence in the polls and certainly wanted to take advantage tonight. The latest PPP poll has seen him garner 15% of likely Republican primary voters and the Republican base has always respected Gingrich for his knowledge on policy and history.  Senator Santorum, campaigning hard in battleground states like Iowa and New Hampshire, needed to continue his assault on the records of front runners like Romney to try to gain some traction. Only time will tell if these two GOP veterans can continue to put chinks in the Romney armor, but for one night, they certainly brought out the swords over one of the most contentious issues in this election cycle.

(Photo Credit: CNN/David Holloway)

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