By Rachel Denney, Special to The Chronicle
The Sept. 7 debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in California was all about the two-man battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. The two governors fought with memorized sound bytes, patriotic anecdotes, and soft economic factoids about their own experiences. Although it was entertaining, the debate was neither informative nor particularly helpful for voters.
Gov. Perry took center stage last Wednesday, taking hits for forced Gardasil inoculations, cutting education funds, and the death penalty. He also fielded a few comments about illegal immigration. Despite the debate's focus on Texas in connection to the Mexican border, Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gave the two most prominent responses to the question of restricting illegal immigration.
Gingrich explained the need to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants creates a ‘magnet' effect. He also mitigated strengthening a focus on the English language and American education with more humane policies for removing illegal immigrants. Rep. Michele Bachmann echoed Romney in supporting a fence, predicting that it would prevent both illegal immigration and dangers from narco-terrorism.
The most prominent issue highlighted in the GOP debate was the economy, with particular attention paid to job creation and healthcare. Perry referred to strong growth in Texas, ignoring from the start the thousands of service jobs that pay less than the minimum wage and the thousands of dangerous agricultural jobs given to children. Romney's response cited strong improvements from the once terrible economic conditions in Massachusetts. This statement, if somewhat more self-promotional than honest, seems a bit more respectable.
Intermittent between the long stretches of fuzzy answers rose a few concrete stances from other candidates. Former CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain stood alongside his 9-9-9 tax reform, a plan that would replace the complicated tax code with a flat percentage system. Gingrich, while not proposing many specific presidential plans, made it clear that his goal was to remove President Obama from the White House, regardless of who becomes the Republican candidate. However, Rep. Ron Paul, while given a string of specific questions about his future actions, gave soft answers supporting the private sector without giving a straight answer as to what the private sector might do.
Jon Huntsman, former U.S. Ambassador to China and former governor of Utah, also fell short on answering anything specific, let alone answering his specific questions. Huntsman's central factoid was Utah's top position in job growth, and he clung to it to the exclusion of all else.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum established a few strong points of contention against the other candidates but also failed to present strong opinions or solutions.
Throughout the whole of the debate, there was a surprising absence of serious discussion about Afghanistan and Iraq, and alternative energy. While a few of the nominees, especially Cain, took the opportunity to seriously present goals and specific plans, it appears that face time will lead the day.
The debate's cameras focused on Romney and Perry, and so far it appears that smaller polls and the national media begin to follow suit.