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Eager but unofficial GOP contenders for the White House are focusing their criticism on President Barack Obama and taking a kid-gloves approach to one another.
When the field does take shape, that will change. For now, it can wait.
On Friday night in early-voting New Hampshire, five likely Republican candidates took pokes almost in unison at liberals, Democrats and Obama. They denounced taxes, vilified government regulations and promised to repeal the new health care law.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney painted himself as a free-market champion and philosophical heir to the nation's founders.
Ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty portrayed himself as a can-do achiever who reined in government in a Democratic-leaning state.
Michele Bachmann, the fast-talking Minnesota congresswoman, said Congress should not raise the government's borrowing limit despite economists' warnings of dire consequences.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and pizza magnate Herman Cain advocated lower taxes and an embrace of the nation's religious heritage. Cain got the evening's biggest laugh with a story about his grandfather driving on rutted roads and urging him to be "a big potato," not a small potato.
The forum was a packed dinner hosted by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity in Manchester, the largest city in the first-primary state. Each candidate spoke for eight minutes and then fielded two questions. They did not address each other.
Those who skipped the event included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, real estate mogul Donald Trump and 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee.
The audience responded about equally to all five speakers. No candidate landed a knockout punch or made a serious gaffe.
Romney spoke in broad terms, portraying himself as a lover of freedom and capitalism, while saying Obama looks to Europe for inspiration and guidance. He said the nation's greatness "is being challenged by those who would make the country more like Europe."
"We got it right, they got it wrong," he said.
Romney said the health care law he signed in Massachusetts, which required all residents to obtain insurance, reduced unfair public subsidies of people who could afford their own care. He again said he never would impose the plan nationwide. And he called for repealing the Democrats' 2010 health law. That plan resembles his state plan in some ways.
Pawlenty praised congressional Republicans' efforts to revamp Medicare but stopped short of endorsing every detail of the House-passed plan. He said the eligibility age for Social Security should be raised and that wealthier people should not receive the same inflation adjustments that others receive. He also said Medicaid should be handed to states as a block grant program.
Pawlenty apologized for his past support of a system to limit greenhouse gas emissions and allow businesses to trade the right to produce them.
"It was a mistake, it was stupid, and I'm sorry," he said.
But he boasted of cutting taxes, tying teachers' pay to performance and curbing personal injury lawsuits in his Democratic-leaning state. "If we can do it there, we can do it anywhere," Pawlenty said.
Bachmann, a tea party favorite, called for a litany of tax cuts and an end to government bailouts of ailing industries and subsidies of mortgages. She said she would auction Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae "to the highest bidder," starting at 50 cents.
In rapid-fire fashion, Bachmann said she would "zero out" the capital gains tax and alternative minimum tax. She would scrap the U.S. tax code, she said, "and adopt a national consumption tax."
'Let's get rid of what we've got and start over," Bachmann said.
"And I won't rest until Obamacare is finally repealed, and it will happen," she added. Until then, she said, "we shouldn't give one dime to put this Frankenstein into place."
This program aired on April 30, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.
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