Wild west showdown sets political scene

Thursday, October 20, 2011

With caucus seasons shortening, the political stew is really boiling, just in time for those crisp, fall temperatures.

Though it was already a bit warmer in southern Nevada than fellow early-election states Iowa and New Hampshire, the seven candidates on stage made it down right steamy in the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Here are some observations from the eventful night.

Michele Bachmann concluded her introduction by saying, "This is one night when I hope what happens in Vegas, doesn't stay in Vegas."

With 5.5 million people watching it across the nation, Bachmann basically got her wish.

Rick Santorum started the night with a shout-out to his 3-year-old daughter who recently had surgery. It was a touching moment that showed family as his primary focus.

The aura of the debate did not stay sweet for long, especially as talk of Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan took center stage.

Bachmann warned against any new tax, regardless of the rate, noting that income tax started in single digits before growing to 70 percent prior to President Ronald Reagan's time in office.

Santorum applauded Cain for being bold with his proposal before pointing to a study saying 84 percent of Americans would pay more taxes under Cain's plan and contrasted 9-9-9 with reform he championed in the U.S. Senate.

Rick Perry told Cain the plan would be a tough sell in New Hampshire, which has no state sales tax, and also right in Nevada, which already has an 8 percent state sales tax. He later added that the nation's 9 percent unemployment is "the nine we need to focus on." He believes cultivating natural energy sources would help dial that number back, by creating 1.2 million jobs.

Ron Paul called the tax regressive and said continued deficit spending is also a "tax" that must be cut.

"People don't want to pay both taxes," Mitt Romney chimed in, inciting applause.

Newt Gingrich spoke highly of Cain overall, but said the plan is much more complex than Cain promotes.

Cain did not have a very strong response to his critics, repeating that individuals need to read the analysis his team has done. While his opponents argued 9-9-9 would be a value-added tax, he argued it would replace five invisible taxes with a visible sales tax. He touted "opportunity zones," which the American people will no doubt hear about more in the coming weeks, just as 9-9-9 has been a hot topic.

Bachmann stood by previous statements that "absolutely every American needs to pay something" in taxes "even if it's just a dollar."

As the topic switched to health care, some spice got thrown into the mix. While Romney tried to justify Massachusetts' health care reform as one state's solution to their problems, Santorum repeatedly try to butt in and even claimed Romney had run out of time before finishing his answer. Perry and Bachmann followed that example as the night continued.

Gingrich cited the fining of a business for having insufficient insurance as evidence of big government, but Romney responded, "We got the idea of an individual mandate from you, Newt," referencing Gingrich's support of the Heritage Center's backing of such a mandate, though Gingrich disputed the allegation.

An allegation that Romney knowingly hired illegal immigrants for yard work was fired by Perry later, but Romney has handled those allegations before and noted that he fired the contractor after first warning them about illegals working on his property.

Therefore, he weathered the storm like a cruise ship and turned the tables on Perry, pointing to a 60 percent increase of illegal immigrants in Texas during Perry's 10 years as governor, while illegal immigration numbers were nearly neutral in both California and Florida at the same time.

During the exchange, Romney told Perry, "You have a problem with allowing people to speak. If you want to be president, you have to let people speak."

That quote said a lot about the whole night, which included talk of the TARP bailout, foreign aid and the military budget.

While the other candidates took their turns interrupting others, Romney, Cain and Gingrich stayed fairly polite throughout the night.

Cain clearly did not win, considering the beating dealt to his tax plan.

Gingrich had some nice moments, but did not say enough to get the W, either.

Therefore, Romney is basically the winner by default for keeping his cool amidst the dog fight.

The biggest loser? That would have to be Jon Huntsman. Though he's floundering in the polls, he boycotted the event on a matter of principle, as Nevada set an early primary date which complicates his plans to put all of his eggs into New Hampshire.

If he wants to make it past (or even to New Hampshire) he better be prepared to grab some of those eggs and aim them at his opponents.

But, in reality, the race is surprisingly turning into a two-man race between Cain and Romney, with just about everyone else trying to play the wild card.

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