Field of seven candidates lacks clear front-runner

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Businessman Herman Cain makes a point as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, left, listens during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Monday. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Seven candidates squared off Monday in the first Republican primary debate, answering questions about unemployment, the federal debt, health care, foreign policy and social issues.

Republican presidential candidates in the first primary debate Monday mostly needed to present solutions to current economic woes, said UT government professor Bruce Buchanan. He also said the race remains unusually contentious.

“Usually the Republicans begin with a clear front-runner who has waited his turn,” Buchanan said. “This time we don’t have that. We have a real harsh race and a more fractured electorate.”

According to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted June 8-11, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney currently leads the pack. Of the 851 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents surveyed, 24 percent prefer him over other candidates.

Romney needs to prove himself as a leader that can unite the party, Buchanan said.

“Romney’s challenge is to try to prove himself as a front-runner, both by how he does in the debate and by speaking inclusively about Republicans, not singling out anyone to attack,” he said.

At the debate, Republicans proposed to improve the economy by cutting business taxes, softening business regulation and allowing more drilling for oil and natural gas. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stressed the need for Congress to act immediately on high unemployment.

“They ought to start creating jobs right now, because for those 14 million Americans [who are unemployed], this a depression now,” he said

Congress has until Aug. 2 to raise the debt ceiling. Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who announced at the debate that she has officially filed paperwork required to run, said Congress should not raise the debt ceiling without deep spending cuts.

Romney differentiated health care reform he supported as Massachusetts governor from national health care reform. He said the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, costing over a trillion dollars, was simply too high a cost considering the nation’s debt.

“Ours was a state plan, a state solution, and if people don’t like it in our state, they can change it,” he said.

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said he is against bombing operations in Yemen and Pakistan, opposed U.S. participation in the NATO operation in Libya and supports quickly withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We should learn the lessons of history, and the longer we’re there, the worse things are and the more danger we’re in as well,” he said.

Lauren Pierce, president of College Republicans at UT, said it is too early to determine who the best candidate is, given that many candidates may drop out and many may not have officially filed yet.

“No one’s really too excited about who’s running right now, which is kind of disappointing,” she said. “A lot of it is grassroots candidates, Tea Party candidates and candidates who attempted in the past and were unsuccessful.”

Pierce said her top priority issues included the economy and various foreign policy issues such as foreign aid, the U.S. relationship with Israel and immigration.

“The economy is going to be important because we don’t want to graduate and then not be able to get a job,” she said.