ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Republican presidential contenders sharply criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the economy in a campaign debate Thursday night, calling for tax cuts, elimination of government regulations and other steps to help create jobs in a nation with 9.1 percent unemployment.
"The president's party wants to take from some people and give to others. That isn't the way to lift America," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said his state ranked first in the country five years in the row in attracting businesses looking to relocate. "Something special happened there ... and we plan to keep it that way," he said.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota told one questioner, "You should get to keep every dollar you earn," then backpedaled. "Obviously we have to give money back to the government so we can run the government," she said.
The debate was the third in as many weeks for the GOP hopefuls and. in its opening moments, quite a bit less combative than the other two. Obama was the target of the nine presidential hopefuls on the debate stage, rather than each other.
The two-hour event was sponsored by Fox News and Google, in keeping with an emerging trend in which mainstream media organizations partner with Internet companies .
Without saying so, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gave an endorsement of sorts to one of the elements of Obama's job proposals. Asked whether he would renew unemployment benefits for those out of work, he said they should be required to participate in a "business led" job training program. "I believe it is fundamentally wrong to give people money for 99 weeks for doing nothing." He added.
Obama has called for Congress to extend the current system of unemployment benefits, but he also wants to permit states to experiment with the type of training program that has been used in Gingrich's home state of Georgia.
Also on stage were former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, businessman Herman Cain and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
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