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Few sharp exchanges in first GOP presidential debate, as candidates assail Obama

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney answers a question as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, left, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, listen during the first Republican presidential debate Monday. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

The full field of Republican presidential candidates met on the same stage for the first time Monday night in New Hampshire, seven months before the first vote of the primary season. But the candidates mostly passed on opportunities to draw sharp distinctions between one another, seeking instead to establish a united front in their attacks on President Obama.

In particular, observers were scrutinizing the dynamic between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, widely perceived as the front-runner, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has sought to position himself as the more ideologically palatable alternative to Romney. Pawlenty exhibited restraint when, early in the debate, he was asked to explain a phrase he had coined — “Obamneycare” — to describe similarities between President Obama’s health reform law and a Massachusetts measure signed by Romney in 2006.

“In order to prosecute the case against President Obama, you’ve got to be able to show that you’ve got a better plan and a different plan,” Pawlenty said. When asked why he had criticized the Massachusetts law, Pawlenty demurred, saying, “I just cited President Obama’s own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a guide,” and added: “He’s the one who said it’s a blueprint, and that he merged the two programs.”

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Why you’re wrong about who’s going to be elected president next year

Newt Gingrich interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press." Photo: AP/NBC News, William B. Plowman

It’s 2011, do you know who’s going to win the presidential election next year?  The answer is no, you don’t. Even if you predict now that someone will win then, and that person ends up winning, it won’t be because you knew. You don’t know.

How do I know what you don’t know? Maybe I don’t. But I do know this: Most of what people “know” in the year or two before a presidential election turns out to be wrong. Take a look at the last half century or so, and you’ll see what most people thought was a shoo-in at some point in the calendar year before the election turned out to be, well, a shoo-out.


We begin with a tragedy. Throughout most of 1963, the entire country assumed President John F. Kennedy would most certainly be his party’s nominee in 1964. Perhaps he would be reelected as well. We all know what happened on November 22, 1963. Before that date, no one knew Lyndon B. Johnson would be president.

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