Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press
NEW YORK — The 2012 Republican presidential contenders have roundly criticized President Barack Obama for economic policies they contend helped drive the downgrade of U.S. credit by a major ratings agency.
But they've offered few of their own ideas to ease the current crisis, and analysts warn they could risk a backlash from voters frightened by the market turbulence and weary of partisan finger-pointing.
"Americans are exhausted with Washington's blame game and are craving anyone who can provide legitimate answers on a path on getting out of this mess," Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said. "The Republican who can rise above and provide a platform of answers, a blueprint — that will set them apart from the rest of the pack."
The Dow plunged 634 points, or 5.5 percent, Monday after Standard & Poor's announcement late Friday that it had downgraded U.S. credit from AAA to AA+. Obama stepped before cameras during the market sell-off Monday, pledging to work with a bipartisan committee of lawmakers to seek further deficit reduction and to develop policies to reduce the stubbornly high 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
"Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America," Obama said at the White House. "No matter what some agency may say, we've always been and always will be a triple-A country."
His assurances did little to sway the Republican hopefuls, who began pummeling Obama soon after S&P announced its downgrade decision.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told a New Hampshire audience on Monday that Obama had presided over a "blame presidency" that had led to the U.S. credit problems.
"Stop attacking, take responsibility and lead," Romney said.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty offered similar criticisms while campaigning in Iowa.
"These problems have been percolating for a lot of years — both parties have to take some blame — but it's also true that President Obama has made them exponentially worse," Pawlenty said at an event in Ames.
In South Carolina, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also had harsh words for the administration's economic policies despite having served as Obama's ambassador to China until April.
"You look at where the marketplace is today, you look at our downgrade, you look at all the economic woes that every American family has seen play out over the past little while. We've done this to ourselves and it's time to reverse this business-unfriendly attitude of the past 2½ years," Huntsman said.
The market disruption came at the beginning of an important week in the GOP nominating calendar.
The major contenders are scheduled to meet in a nationally televised debate Thursday in Iowa. Most will also appear on the ballot in a nonbinding straw poll hosted Saturday by the Iowa Republican Party, although Romney, Huntsman and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are not actively competing. Also Saturday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to signal his entry in the race.
While Republicans have plenty of fresh fodder to attack Obama — the credit rating downgrade was the first in history and happened on his watch — none of the president's potential challengers has laid out a real strategy for addressing the debt crisis that helped precipitate the credit downgrade.
The markets began their slide last week after the White House and congressional leaders signed off on a last-minute deal to cut spending by more than $2 trillion and raise the nation's debt ceiling to avert a potential default. Bachmann voted against the deal, as did another 2012 GOP contender, Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
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