Game On: GOP Hopefuls Target Obama in Debate

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MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The race is on! Seven Republican presidential hopefuls faced off for their first presidential debate Monday night in New Hampshire.
    
Topics ranged from the economy to religious freedom to Sharia law.  But Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., grabbed the spotlight when she announced that she would be entering the 2012 race for the White House.

"I filed today my paperwork to seek the office of the presidency of the United States today, and I'll very soon be making my formal announcement," the Tea Party favorite said.

Bachmann joined six other candidates in Monday's debate, but the main target wasn't on stage -- he's in the White House.

"The Obama administration is an anti-jobs, anti-business, anti-American energy, destructive force," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

Other candidates took aim at the Obama administration's controversial health care law.

"As president of the United States, I will not rest until I repeal Obamacare. That is a promise. Take it to the bank and cash the check. I'll keep that promise," Bachmann said.

Bachmann's announcement and take charge performance caught the attention of mainstream media types.

"She's the one candidate as we've seen, that excites conservative audiences in ways that some of the other established candidates do not," Washington Post reporter Dan Balz said.

David Brody and Regent University distinguished government professor Charles Dunn analyze Monday's GOP debate.  Watch below.

Defending 'Obamneycare'

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney found himself defending the healthcare plan he presided over as governor of Massachusetts. 

The plan required all state residents purchase health insurance, something that has been compared to President Obama's new health care law.

"Ours was a state plan, a state solution, and if people don't like it in our state, they can change it," he said.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently labeled the Massachusetts plan, "Obamaney care" but wouldn't go there when he was face-to-face with Romney.

"If it was 'Obamneycare' on Fox News Sunday, why is it not 'Obamneycare' standing right there?" CNN anchor and debate moderator John King challenged Pawlenty.

"Using the term 'Obamneycare' was a reflection of the president's comments that he designed Obamacare on the Massachusetts health care plan," the former Minnesota governor responded.

Aim at Entitlements

Regarding the big issue of entitlements, the GOP candidates agreed something must be done.

"Medicare is going to be cut starting in 2014 by the federal government and it's going to be rationing of care from the top down," former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said.

While the economy is the number one voter concern, social issues like faith in the public square attracted a lot of attention.

"The most important thing is the First Amendment, which is Congress shall write no law which means Congress should never prohibit the expression of your Christian faith in a public place," Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said.

Cain's Muslim Remarks

On the topic of Islam, Herman Cain had to explain a past statement that he may not be comfortable choosing Muslims to work in his administration.

"I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us," the former Godfather's Pizza CEO said.

Gingrich wasted no time coming to Cain's defense.

"I just want to go out on a limb here. I'm in favor of saying to people 'if you're not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration period," the former House speaker said.

Asked about radical Islamic Sharia law being applied as a defense in American courtrooms...

"I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts. I believe in American law (in) courts period," Cain stated.

"We're not going to have Sharia law applied in American courts," Romney agreed. "That's never going to happen."

Romney Reaffirms Pro-Life

On the abortion issue, Santorum addressed whether Romney's change from pro-choice to pro-life was believable.

"I think -- I think an issue should be -- in looking at any candidate is looking at the authenticity of that candidate and looking at their -- at their record over time and what they fought for," Santorum said.

"People have had a chance to look at my record," Romney replied. "I believe that people understand that I'm firmly pro-life. I believe in the sanctity of life from the very beginning until the very end."

The Republican candidates will debate again in Iowa in just two months.  Until then, you can expect at least one more candidate, like former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and possibly even like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. 

Just like the economy, this GOP field is still fragile and nobody knows exactly what it will look like in the future.

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.