MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - The Republican presidential candidates met Monday night for the first of two critical debates before the South Carolina primary scheduled for Saturday.
Time is running out for candidates at the bottom of the pack, and they had a clear plan of attack.
The cast of characters advertised in this temporary landmark named "Mount Myrtle" put on an explosive show.
Current GOP front-runner Mitt Romney's rivals delivered blows throughout the two-hour debate, starting with his position as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital.
**CBN News Chief Political Correspondent David Brody talked more about the debate, about Romney's lead in the polls, and if evangelicals will help Santorum close the gap, on CBN News Channel Morning News, Jan. 17. Click play to hear his comments.
"There was a pattern. In some companies, a handful of them. He had a record of leaving them with enormous debt and then within a year or two or three having them go broke. I think this is something that he ought to answer," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
"Some of the businesses we invested in weren't successful and lost jobs. I'm very proud of the fact that we learned from the experience," the former Massachusetts governor replied.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged Romney, a multi-millionaire, to release his personal tax records.
"We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now, so I hope you'll put your tax records out there this week," Perry told Romney.
Romney said he'll consider releasing his personal tax records in April.
As the primary wears on, political television commercials are getting nastier.
"There was one ad that we used against Sen. Santorum and I only had one problem. I couldn't get in all the things that I wanted to say in a minute," Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said, which resulted in laughter from the audience.
Local television commercials bought by super political action committees funded by rich donors with no accountability to the candidate have caused the candidates grief.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is the target of one of these TV spots, and he challenged Romney because his super PAC produced it.
"Governor Romney?" he asked.
"I believe that, as you realize, that the super PACs run ads and, if they ever run an ad or say something that's not accurate, I hope they either take off the ad or make it-or make it correct," Romney replied.
"This specifically is what both Senator Santorum and I have complained about -- Gov. Romney's super PAC over which he apparently has no influence, which makes you wonder what kind of influence he would have as president," Gingrich said.
"We all would like to have super PACs disappear to tell you the truth," Romney said.
Aware that South Carolinians like to be courted, the candidates will spend the next five days turning up the charm and spending their campaign money. They've gobbled up all remaining broadcast air time for their TV commercials through Saturday.