Pubdate: Fri, 06 May 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Neil King Jr.


GREENVILLE, S.C.-The first debate of the Republican presidential race
featured a series of spirited exchanges, with five largely
lesser-known candidates taking shots at President Barack Obama on
foreign policy and the new health-care law while showing differences
among themselves.

Just days after Mr. Obama scored one of the biggest triumphs of his
presidency with the killing of Osama bin Laden, several of the
candidates laid into Mr. Obama for actions taken elsewhere in the world.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty congratulated Mr. Obama on the bin
Laden killing but complained that the president had deferred to allies
in the intervention in Libya. "If he said [Libyan leader] Moammar
Gadhafi must go, he needs to maintain the options to make Gadhafi go.
And he didn't do that," Mr. Pawlenty said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said the favorable parts of Mr.
Obama's foreign policy were continuations of policies laid out by his
predecessor, George W. Bush. Otherwise, Mr. Obama has "gotten it wrong
every single time," he said, citing the president's policies toward
Libya, Iran and other countries.

The debate had all the pomp of a nationally televised forum, but the
dearth of contestants and the lack of big names illustrated how
tentative the Republican race remains.

Joining Messrs. Santorum and Pawlenty were former Godfather's Pizza
CEO Herman Cain, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Rep. Ron Paul
of Texas.

In the aftermath of the successful hunt for bin Laden, the candidates
were asked if they supported enhanced interrogation techniques such as
waterboarding. The audience at the Peace Center Hall applauded wildly
when all the candidates except Mr. Paul and Mr. Johnson raised their

The candidates showed disparities on foreign policy. Mr. Johnson, a
libertarian, said the U.S. should pull out of Afghanistan "tomorrow."
Mr. Cain, an Atlanta-based radio personality, said it remained unclear
why the U.S. was still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Santorum both argued for a more muscular
stance overseas, particularly toward Iran and Libya.

The five also showed wide differences on social issues, with the two
libertarians on the stage, Mr. Paul and Mr. Johnson, arguing that the
government shouldn't interfere in personal decisions on drug use or
gay marriage. Mr. Paul got laughs and applause when, speaking in one
of the most conservative corners of the state, he defended the right
to use heroin.

For a variety of reasons, many of the most recognized figures eyeing a
2012 run didn't show up in Greenville, including former Massachusetts
Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Of those who did take the stage, none has garnered more than 10%
support in any recent poll. Those who joined the debate, co-sponsored
by the state GOP and Fox News, stood to benefit most simply from being
seen on national television.

Mr. Paul, a frequent presidential candidate, is fairly well known
within his party, but a recent Gallup poll found less than half of
Republicans had heard of Messrs. Pawlenty and Santorum, and far fewer
were familiar with Messrs. Cain or Johnson.

The candidates studiously avoided attacking one another. Asked to
critique one of Mr. Romney's biggest political vulnerabilities-the
health-care plan he signed while governor of Massachusetts-Mr.
Pawlenty said it wasn't fair to attack someone who wasn't there to
defend himself.

Asked if he objected to Mr. Gingrich's multiple marriages, Mr.
Santorum instead jumped to the former congressman's defense, saying
that he learned from his mistakes.

All the candidates were asked to tick off Mr. Obama's chief
vulnerability. Nearly all cited the economy and gas prices. Nodding to
the strike on bin Laden, Mr. Cain said, "One right decision does not a
great president make." 
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