MANCHESTER, NH — Although there are practically enough GOP players at this moment to field a complete baseball game, Monday night’s GOP Voters’ First forum took a one-on-one approach to narrowing the crowded field.
Event moderator Jack Heath joined candidates center stage at the Dana Center at Saint Anselm College, asking the tough questions. In the afterglow, some likened the process to “speed dating.”
That’s because each candidate got an average of about eight minutes total to woo and wow voters, taking turns basking in the spotlight – two rounds of questions each, based on their past or existing political experience and current presidential platforms, which meant topics ranged from immigration, terrorism, war, economics and foreign relations.
Below is a recap of some of the highlights from round 1:
Rick Perry: The first round of questioning for Perry was focused on immigration. He came out swinging and took a tough stance on what continues to be a hot-button issue on a national scale.
“The will to secure that border will reside in the White House,” Perry said, speaking openly about the Obama administration’s “inability to track illegal immigrants” and those whose visas have expired.
Perry also spoke about his record of job creation while governor of Texas, which he says he can transfer to the national level with smart tax policies and a regulatory system that’s predictable.
Rick Santorum: Jobs and manufacturing were a large part of Santorum’s focus, as he was the first — but not the last — candidate to evoke the name of Ronald Reagan. In this case, he talked about the number of manufacturing jobs lost since Reagan was in office, from 20 million to 11 million.
“Our campaign will make manufacturing competitive… with a flat tax for everybody,” Santorum said. “I’m going to stand with the American worker.”
He also spoke about time limits and work requirements for those on public assistance.
“It’s got to be a one-two punch. We’ve got to create jobs for these folks who want to work and motivate them to get off welfare programs,” Santorum said.
John Kasich – Kasich hearkened back to the Reagan years as a time when a Republican led the economy through a time of growth.
He criticized foreign imports which he said are “destroying families.” I’m a free-trader but I’m a fair trader,” he said.
He also said we need a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. “We don’t have the right to live high on the hog and put the bills on our children,” Kasich said.
Lindsey Graham – Graham focused on foreign policy and took plenty of swipes at President Obama’s policies, from China and Russia, to Iran and Isis.
“China is cheating because nobody is stopping them. If I’m president, we’re going to push back,” Graham said.
He also criticized cuts to the U.S. military budget, making it “the smallest Army since 1940,” and said his policy as president would be to rule with “a clenched fist and an open hand.”
Chris Christie – Christie said it was important to have a concrete plan when tackling the issue of entitlement reform.
“The American people understand we’re mortgaging away our children’s future,” Christie said. He said people are living longer with a better quality of life, and for those who are most fortunate, it may be necessary to ask them not to take a Social Security check.
“The problem is us. We underestimate the American people. They’ve always risen to the challenges that face this country,” Christie said.
He also fielded a question about whether every state should have a veterans hospital – Heath noted that New Hampshire does not have a dedicated full-time hospital for veterans.
“What should happen is that every veteran should be kept a promise that was made to them; they should be able to go to any hospital in America. We’re not keeping that promise because of the incompetence of this administration,” Christie said.
A question on New Hampshire’s heroin crisis was submitted by a woman who recently lost her daughter to an overdose. She wanted to know why there was not more rehabilitation in prison settings, and why we are “falling down” on this problem.
Christie touted his state’s mandatory drug treatment instead of jail time for those entering the system.
“This is a disease. The war on drugs has been a failure, everyone makes mistakes,” Christie said. “We need to … reach out and embrace those people, offering them treatment rather than prison… and we need a president who will stand up and say this is a disease and we’re going to fix it.”
Ben Carson: On the question of how as president he would correct the problems with Obamacare, Carson said it shouldn’t be repealed without something in place to replace it.
“You don’t want to pull the safety net out,” Carson said, adding that the reason he opposes Obamacare is because “it flies in face of what we are as a nation,” by telling people what they have to accept.
Carson advocates a health savings account that would allow people to pass along residual savings to family members, resulting in a catastrophic health care plan that costs less.
He noted that health savings accounts would not work so seamlessly for “the indigent” adding that Americans from all economic backgrounds need to learn “personal responsibility.”
A question from the audience on reforming the tax code was answered by Carson with a Biblical tenet. “God said I want a tithe,” said Carson, saying it seemed to him to be fair and proportional, adding that a 10-15 percent tax code with no deductions and no loopholes would be the best way to go.
Jeb Bush: On terrorism, Bush said the U.S. has “let our guard down” when it comes to terrorism, calling it a “war against western civilization… protecting our homeland is the first duty of the U.S.”
Defeating terrorists requires a president to “take the advice of the military seriously. He also touted his record as Florida’s governor, saying he left office in good financial shape.
Carly Fiorina – Fiorina’s question got at her recent public criticism of Democratic contender Hillary Clinton’s handling of Benghazi and her deleted emails.
“She lied about Benghazi… she has lied about her servers and information she had on her servers – these go to the core of her character,” Fiorina said. ” In order to beat Clinton or whoever the Democratic nominee is, we need someone who is willing to throw a punch, because it’s a fight for our nation.”
She was also one of several candidates asked about defunding Planned Parenthood, to which she said American taxpayers should not be funding the organization, recently in the news for allegations that it has sold fetal tissue for profit.
A Senate vote that coincided with the forum failed to pass by a vote of 53-46.
Bobby Jindal – Jindal spoke about the divisive nature of politics which he said under President Obama has divided the United States.
“I’m so tired of this president trying to divide us by gender, race, geography – we’re all Americans, not hyphenated Americans,” Jindal said.
And on healthcare, Jindal said of Obama, “He’s trying to turn the American dream into a European nightmare.”
Jindal said he’d change the culture of Washington by shrinking the size of government and call for term limits to “get rid of the permanent political class.”
Scott Walker – Walker touted his own accomplishments as governor of Wisconsin in producing a balanced budget.
“I know how to balance a budget. It can’t just be done through cuts and austerity, but through growth and reform,” Walker said. He also talked about how his tough stance on “right to work” legislation gave union workers the “freedom to choose” whether to keep the money they had been paying toward union dues, changes that have also eliminated union-protected seniority and tenure, allowing teachers to be fired based on lack of performance.
George Pataki – Pataki talked up his record as governor of New York in a post-9/11 world.
“I was governor in New York for three terms, and was able to … reduce the state workforce by more than 15 percent,” Pataki said. He also said that he has what it takes to work with both sides of the aisle for much-needed compromise to repeal Obamacare.
Rand Paul – Paul also took some swipes at President Obama, saying that rather than making college education free, “because there is no free lunch,” he would enact a plan to make college debt deductible.
“Your interest and principal should be deducted over your entire working career, this makes more sense than a president who says, “Hey, it’s going to be free,'” Paul said.
Paul, who called himself a constitutionalist, said if elected he would protect the rights of Americans who are currently having their privacy violated by widespread phone tapping and information gathering by the government.
“They need to focus more on terrorists and less on innocent individuals. All of this information gathering hasn’t made us safer, but it has damaged our Bill of Rights,” Paul said.
Ted Cruz: Cruz also spoke about defunding Planned Parenthood and the “grave mistake” facing America through the president’s Iranian nuclear deal.
Cruz also spoke at length about the problems in Washington among career politicians, which he termed the “Washington Cartel.”
“We have career politicians who get in bed with lobbyists and special interests. We don’t have leaders who follow their commitments,” said Cruz, who said because he is willing to tell the truth, he has been under fire from all sides. He hearkened back to 1980 when, under Reagan, a president “stood up to the Washington cartel and turned this country around.”
Marco Rubio: Off the bat Rubio was asked about legalization of marijuana, which he does not support generally, but which he would consider for medicinal purposes.
As for his policy on “undocumented aliens” who already are living and working in the United States, Rubio said he would propose a three-step plan that would include completion of the border fence, promote an entry/exit biometric system to better track people entering the U.S., and change the current policy that dictates how immigrants can enter the U.S., which is primarily based on family relationships.
“We can’t afford that any more. It must be based on merit and what you can do for our country. You have to come here to be an American, not just to live here,” Rubio said.
On Aug. 6 the Top 10 polling GOP candidates, yet to be determined, will square off for a debate on FOX News at 9 p.m. Candidates polling outside the top 10 will get one hour of air time at 5 p.m. according to the network.