Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich attack but don't knock down Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney answers a question during a Republican presidential candidate debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Mitt Romney
AP Photo/Elise Amendola

UPDATED Jan. 8 at 12:28 a.m. ET

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich on Saturday night teamed up against rival and front-runner Mitt Romney, attacking the former Massachusetts governor for his record as a venture capitalist in an effort to curtail the notion that he will end up as the Republican nominee for president. But they left him largely untouched two days before the New Hampshire primary he is expected to win handily.

In a debate hosted by ABC News, Yahoo! and WMUR-TV, Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, stood by his argument that Romney's experience as head of Bain Capital doesn't equip him to be president, while the former House speaker cast Romney as a job slasher.

Santorum, who nearly tied Romney in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday, has said on the campaign trail that the U.S. doesn't need a manager as president. When asked whether he was referring to his GOP rival, Santorum said, "Of course I was talking about Gov. Romney."

"Business experience doesn't necessarily match up with being commander in chief of this country," Santorum said, adding that the president can't direct members of Congress to take certain actions - he has to "lead and inspire."

Romney responded that "people who spend their life in Washington don't understand what happens in the real economy." Businesses leaders, he said, aren't successful because they're managers, but "pimarily because they're leaders."

Still, the damage Romney could suffer from the attacks may be minimal, given that they were fairly brief. Furthermore, his rivals were firing off criticism in all directions throughout the debate - not just Romney.

Gingrich, meanwhile, was questioned about a new video produced for a pro-Gingrich super PAC that depicts Romney as a corporate titan with little regard for blue-collar worker. The video tells the story of a company forced to close in 1995 after Bain took it over.

The former House speaker said he hasn't seen the film but said it reflects what was reported in the New York Times.

"It raises questions" about Romney's business record, he said.

While Gingrich said he agreed with Romney's high regard for business experience, he added, "I'm not really as enamored with the Wall Street mdoel where you can flip companies [and] have leveraged buyouts."

Both Santorum and Gingrich are hovering around 10 percent in the polls in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary on January 10, while Romney holds a commanding lead. Given his strong lead, it's no surprise the former Massachusetts governor found himself on the defensive in the first of two debates the weekend before the primary.

Romney rattled off a list of companies that prospered under Bain's stewardship, including Staples and Sports Authority.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also took aim at Romney, but he went after Romney's record as governor. Huntsman has bet his whole campaign on performing well in New Hampshire.

"Everybody up here has a record that ought to be scrutinzed," Huntsman said. "I served as a governor, Mitt served as a governor - that is probably more telling in terms of what I would do, what Mitt would do as president."

Huntsman boasted about delivering a flat tax in Utah and establishing it as the "most business friendly state in America."

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.