SIOUX CITY, Iowa
Likening himself to Ronald Reagan, Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich insisted in campaign debate Thursday night he can defeat President Barack Obama in 2012, adding it was laughable for his rivals to challenge his conservative credentials.
But challenge him they did, within seconds, when former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum recalled that as House Speaker Gingrich had to contend with a “conservative revolution” from the ranks of Republican lawmakers.
Gingrich, Santorum and five other White House hopefuls met on a debate stage for the last time before Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucuses kick off the selection of delegates to next summer’s Republican National Convention.
That made the stakes high, and Gingrich and Santorum were not the only ones eager to impress the television audience with their grit and conservative beliefs.
“I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses,” said Texas Gov. Tim Perry, referring to the Denver Broncos quarterback whose passing ability draws ridicule but who has led his team to a remarkable seven wins in eight weeks.
“Anybody up here could beat Obama,” said Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whose views verge on libertarianism and who has struggled to expand his appeal.
Indeed, the big question in the opening moments of a fast-paced two-hour debate went to the heart of a dilemma that eventually could settle the race — do conservative Republican caucus and primary voters pick a candidate with their hearts, or do they look elsewhere if they judge their favored candidate might not be able to defeat the president?