9:52: Closing remarks:
9:48: CNN's John King tries to move on and the crowd shouts to hear from Paul. "Once again it’s a medical subject and I'm a doctor,'' Paul says. He talks about being a doctor during the social change of the 1960s and 1970s. "The law won't correct the morality of the people," Paul says. He says violence like abortion is handled by the states, so there shouldn't be a constitutional amendment to ban it, just like there isn't one to ban murder. Santorum is clearly upset by this.
9:45: Romney refers to "Romneycare." Flub? From Politico: Gingrich and Rick Santorum teamed up to deliver a sharp attack on Mitt Romney’s record on abortion, forcing the former Massachusetts governor to defend his involvement in the law known as “Romneycare.”
“Romneycare does pay for tax-paid abortions. Romneycare has, written into it, Planned Parenthood, [and] does not have any right to life group written into it,” Gingrich said, alleging that Romney appointed “pro-abortion” judges.
Romney responded with a kind of low-key indignation, beginning by saying: “I’m not questioned on character and integrity very often.”
“In Romneycare, there’s no mention of abortion whatsoever,” he said. “There’s no requirement, or no participation, of Planned Parenthood in our healthcare plan … We don’t have a litmus test of appointing judges, asking them if they’re pro-life or not pro-life.”
9:37: Paul is asked if those who hire illegal-immigrant house cleaners should be prosecuted. No, Paul responds. He urges others to look more closely at the incentives for immigrants, including that they take jobs most U.S. citizens refuse.
9:34: Paul again weighs in with a solution: bring American troops home from overseas and put them on the southern border.
9:30: Romney: immigration issue is not tough. Build a fence, patrol it, give everyone an ID, prosecute employers who don’t check the card. Boom. On illegal immigrants, Romney says, "we’re not going to round them all up and deport them." But he adds that he won't offer them a preferential pathway to citizenship either.
9:15: Gingrich says he's against SOPA, while attacking Hollywood. "I favor freedom." Romney agrees and says the legislation is "far too intrusive." Paul is pro-freedom. But Santorum differs: "You can't go on the Internet and do anything you want to do." He thinks the bill goes too far, but "the idea that anything goes on the Internet, where did that come from?"
8:58: Discussion of Gingrich's tax returns -- clever -- he posted online an hour ago. From Bloomberg News: Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich released his 2010 tax returns today, showing he and his wife paid $994,708 on $3.1 million in gross income.
The records also show the Gingriches paid at a tax rate of 31.6 percent, double the rate that primary front-runner Mitt Romney says he paid.
8:57: Ouch: Romney cites Reagan's diary in what he says is a single unflattering entry about Gingrich. "Mr. Speaker, you were speaker for four years. I was in business for 25 years."
8:55: Romney jumps in. Both he and Santorum are targeting Gingrich.
8:53: Santorum is taking Gingrich apart in a very personal way: says Gingrich had no discipline, was undone by a coup within his own party.
Santorum: "Grandiosity has never been an issue with Newt Gingrich." He continued, "Newt's a friend. I love him. But at certain times you have that worriesome moment that something's going to pop. ... I'm steady, I'm solid."
8:51: Gingrich takes on Santorum's "grandiose" slam: "I spent 16 years on a grandiose project: creating a Republican majority in the House."
8:49: Santorum: "I don't want a nominee who I have to worry about what he's going to say next" -- direct slam on Gingrich. Talks about Gingrich saying Santorum could get out of race: "These are not cogent thoughts," Santorum says.
8:43: Paul up now. Paints picture of pre-Medicare 1960s. Keep in mind Paul is a doctor. He wants to try to protect people dependent on federal Medicare, etc. Where is the money going to come from to do that? Close and reduce our military presence abroad; shut down bases in Europe, Japan, etc.; withdraw from Afghanistan, free up billions in military spending.
8:41: Santorum takes on Gingrich. Core of Obamacare is top-down healthcare mandate and that Gingrich supported it for 10 years. Gingrich comeback: Yes, I can defend it; I can say to Obama I was wrong and I figured it out; you were wrong and you didn't. Gets good applause line.
8:40: Romney gets personal: to Santorum: "If you want to go be governor of Massachusetts fine, but I want to be president." Said he wants Medicaid moved entirely to states.
8:38: Romney rebuts: says he didn't expand governement insurance. Santorum answers: "You're defending a plan that is top down. It is not a free market healthcare system." Now Romney and Santorum in sprited back and forth over Medicaid financing.
8:37: Whoa. Santorum directly challenges Romney and Gingrich: says he was going for private health care reform while these two were playing with the left!
8:35: Gingrich: "If you watch Washington and you're not skeptical you haven't learned anything." He lauds Ronney's ideas, doesn't attack them.
8:31: Romney up first: have to go for complete repeal of Obamacare. Is he setting himself up since his Massachusetts healthcare plan was a model for Obamacare?
8:30: Questions being taken from audience: first question: can Obamacare be repealed?
8:29: Newt the historian weighs in on Paul's World War II points: talks about the GI Bill, how it benefitted his father, and the dramatic tax cuts of the time.
8:28: Romney chimes in with calls for incentive programs for employers who hire vets -- but wants it done at the state level to reduce the "tentacles" of federal government. "It is absolutely wrong to balance the budget on the backs of our military."
8:26: Santorum discusses returning "damaged" vets of Vietnam. He slames efforts to cut veterans benefits and military by Obama administration. Says Obama hasn't cut "one penny" from social programs even as he slashes military by "trillion" dollars.
8:25: Paul refers to post-World War II America. Discusses huge budget and tax cuts following war as means used to absorb huge returning work force. "We have an epidemic of suicides among our military coming back." Calls for much greater care for these men and women.
8:25: Santorum resurrects the idea of "Reagan Democrats" -- working class conservative-leaning, often union members -- as a key base for the GOP now.
8:21: Santorum: We need a party that just doesn't talk about "high finance" and cutting corporate taxes -- clear hit on Romney -- but putting men and women back to work. He says he's only candidate doing that and gives shoutout to S.C.'s industrial base.
8:20: Romney comes out hard on his Bain record; lists jobs created; says he expects attack on capitalism from left wing and Obama, not fellow conservatives. "There is nothing wrong with profit, by the way." Bain granted returns for state and private pensions, etc.
8:19: Gingrich says repeal of Dodd-Frank and drill for oil is one way of getting people back to work.
8:17: U of Virginia's Larry Sabato via Twitter: Santorum is unsure in his answer about Newt. He could have knocked this one out of the park but didn't.
8:14: Paul: most of the things the federal government can do to put people back to work is "get out of the way." Calls for sound currency, other libertarian boilerplate issues. The government shouldn't be doing ANY bailouts.
8:13: Paul says he's proud that wife is with him tonight.
8:13: Romney: "John, let's get on to the real issues." Not marriage history.
8:12: Santorum: it is an issue -- Gingrich's marriage background -- though he believes in forgiveness.
8:11: Gingrich says the story is false and that he and his team offered evidence to that effect. Gingrich has brought down the house with his lambasting of King and media.
8:10: Gingrich: for network to do story is "as close to despicable as I can imagine."
8:09: Right out of the gate, John King asks Gingrich if he wants to respond to the affair allegations. Huge applause line as Gingrich says "No, but I will" answer the question. HUGE applause. He's "appalled" that King began the debate with that question.
8:08: Ouch! Ron Paul mentions he's only U.S. veteran on stage tonight.
8:00: Debate beginning...moderator John King describing race as a "dead heat" -- reference to polls showing Romney and Gingrich at statistical tie, with some showing surge by Gingrich.
7:51: WSJ reporting that the candidates are filing into the CNN/Southern Republican Leadership Conference debate in Charleston. With the withdrawal of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, there are four remaining candidates tonight: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum.
Editor's Note: Newmax will be live blogging the CNN GOP Debate, co-sponsored by the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Thursday night beginning at 8 p.m. in this space
Republican presidential candidates meet again on Thursday for perhaps the most crucial debate yet in the 2012 campaign, with front-runner Mitt Romney beginning to look shaky and likely to face fire from nearest challenger Newt Gingrich.
It is the final chance for rivals to chip away at Romney's lead in South Carolina ahead of the primary vote on Saturday when the former Massachusetts governor would take a huge step toward clinching the Republican nomination if he wins.
The CNN debate at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Friday GMT) is a golden opportunity for former House of Representatives Speaker Gingrich, a veteran of national politics who thrives on the televised contests.
A strong performance in a debate in South Carolina on Monday helped him get within touching distance in the polls of Romney, who has struggled to explain why he has not released his tax forms.
"The debate tonight is decisive," said Sid Bedingfield, a professor at the University of South Carolina and a longtime political journalist.
Romney, thought unstoppable after his landslide win in New Hampshire last week, is entering unfamiliar terrain after Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out on Thursday and backed Gingrich.
His campaign suddenly looked beatable in South Carolina.
"I don't think this thing is over at all, this is what happens in primaries," said state Republican Party head Chad Connelly.
"I think Romney catches the heat right now ... This is South Carolina and it's a primary battle and you're going to see all the back and forth about the front-runner, the gloves are off kind of thing."
Pressure for Romney, who has a personal fortune estimated at up to $270 million, to release his tax returns leaped this week after he said he paid taxes at a rate of around 15 percent, far lower than many Americans do.
"It will be interesting to watch how Romney handles questions about his tax returns and how Gingrich responds to questions regarding personal baggage he carries into the last days of the race," said Adam Temple, an unaffiliated Republican consultant based in South Carolina.
Gingrich will likely be tested about new revelations from an interview with his second wife who said that the former speaker wanted an open marriage with her while he was having an affair with his current wife, Callista.
The ABC interview is scheduled to air Thursday night after the debate, which Bedingfield said "makes tonight a fascinating night of political theater."
Rick Santorum, who was announced the winner of the Iowa caucuses on Thursday morning more than two weeks after the voting there, will be looking to get his momentum back after running out of steam in New Hampshire. Romney initially was declared the Iowa winner by eight votes.
An endorsement last weekend by Christian evangelical leaders has failed to give Santorum a big boost in opinion polls in South Carolina.
Libertarian Ron Paul, who was booed by Republicans at the debate earlier this week for his foreign policy views, is the fourth candidate taking part in the debate in Charleston.
(For full coverage of the U.S. presidential campaign click on ) (Reporting By Sam Youngman; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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