Eight Republican presidential hopefuls went head to head in Tampa Monday night for the second major debate of the 2012 primary season.
The far-right Tea Party movement took centre stage at the event, which was hosted by CNN and sponsored by the Tea Party Express, an umbrella advocacy group that represents a loose collection of grassroots affiliates nationwide.
Social policy and national security took a backseat to the issues that concern most Tea Party followers — the economy and the size of the federal government.
The debate highlighted the differences between frontrunner Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the more moderate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The two squared off on nearly every issue — though Romney came out of it slightly stronger. Perry was hit from the right as well, pressed by Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Ron Paul, and former Sen. Rick Santorum on immigration, the HPV vaccine, and his Texas jobs record.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman attempted to get noticed tonight, but surrendered the high ground, with poorly-received jokes. Bachmann managed to prove her relevance — reasserting her position as the arch-social conservative in the race. Paul seemed to defend al Qaeda’s rationale for attacking the United States on 9/11 — erasing any gains his campaign made toward the mainstream.
While the bulk of the questions came from CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, the candidates also fielded questions from members of the audience and 31 different Tea Party groups from around the country.
Our liveblog is below:
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