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Santorum Takes Center Stage for First Time in Saturday NH Debate

By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer

Manchester — For any college-aged political junkie, the Republican Presidential Debate in New Hampshire Saturday night was the place to be. Saturday evening, Saint Anselm College welcomed politicos from across the country onto their quaint New England campus for the long-awaited debate sponsored by ABC News leading up to the nation’s first primary to be held in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

As the St. A’s band played upbeat, lively music just outside the debate hall and hundreds of media personnel gathered in the Spin Room anxiously awaiting the debate, the atmosphere had both the hype of a pep-rally and the prestige of a major national political event.

The debate, hosted by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulous of ABC News and Josh McElveen of New Hampshire’s WMUR, featured Republican Presidential hopefuls former Sen. Rick Sanotrum (PA), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA), Congressman Ron Paul (Texas), former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.), Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) and former Gov. John Huntsman (Utah).

Despite his rivals’ efforts, Romney remained virtually unscathed by their attempts to stifle his momentum. However, the debate provided voters with the chance to get to know Rick Santorum, a newcomer in the field of presidential front runners.

Santorum is striving to be the conservative alternative to Romney. Although Romney is leading overall, the conservative “anybody but Mitt” cause remains among primary voters and Santorum is hoping to garner their support.

Romney and Santorum’s argument over what attributes make the better president set the tone for the debate. Knocking Romney’s private-sector experience, Santorum argued that the nation doesn’t need a CEO.

“The commander in chief of this country isn’t a CEO. It’s someone who has to lead,” he said. “Being the president is not a CEO. You can’t direct . . . members of Congress and members of the Senate as to how you do things. You’ve got to lead and inspire,” said Santorum.

Romney fired back, asserting that it’s his leadership experience in the private sector which has prepared him to be commander and chief.

“My experience is in leadership. The people in the private sector, who are, every day, making this country a stronger nation and hiring people, they’re not successful because they’re managers, they’re successful primarily because they are leaders,” Romney said.

“I wish people in Washington had the experience of going out and working in the real economy first, before they went there, and they’d understand some of the real lessons of leadership,” said Romney.

While Romney’s answers focused more on President Obama, as a candidate vying for the second place spot on Tuesday, Santorum had to answer more of his rivals’ positions.

Paul who’s campaign received a boost with his third place finish in Iowa, is airing an ad accusing Santorum of hypocrisy and calling him a “big government, big spender.”

“He’s [Santorum is] a big government, big spending individual. Because, you know, he preached to the fact he wanted a balanced budget amendment but voted to raise the debt to five times. So he is a big government person,” said Paul.

Paul also criticized Santorum for voting against the right to work and for voting for No Child Left Behind which he said doubled the size of the Department of Education.

Following the debate, it was evident that the candidates believe the second place spot is still up for grabs. Although Santorum was the only candidate to enter the media Spin Room after the debate, the room was filled with family members and staffers eager to talk about their candidates’ performances and chances going into Tuesday’s primary.

Saturday’s debate marked the 14th in the GOP campaign.

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