AMES, Iowa — GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney and seven rivals trying to emerge from the pack castigated President Barack Obama's handling of the economy and the debt ceiling debate Thursday night in a debate shadowed by the latest Republican to join the field, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
"I'm not going to eat Barack Obama's dog food," Romney said when asked whether he would have vetoed the compromise legislation that Congress gave to the president that raised the debt ceiling. "What he served up is not what I would have as president of the United States."
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, assailed Obama for "his lousy leadership and lousy economy." And Rep. Michele Bachmann noted that she had voted against raising the debt ceiling. She raised her voice saying she had a message for Obama: "You are finished in 2012, and you will be a one-term president."
Minutes later the two Minnesota rivals attacked each other's records, underscoring how much each has on the line in a test vote in Iowa on Saturday that could make or break their candidacies.
Pawlenty, who is struggling to gain traction, went on the offensive, accusing Bachmann of achieving nothing significant in Congress, lacking executive experience and having a history of fabrications.
"She's got a record of misstating and making false statements," Pawlenty said.
Bachmann, who has risen in polls since entering the race this summer and has eclipsed Pawlenty, responded with a list of what she called Pawlenty's liberal policies as governor, including his support for legislation to curb emissions.
"You said the era of small government is over," she told Pawlenty. "That sounds a lot like Barack Obama if you ask me."
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