GOP debate focuses on negative tone

Jon Huntsman greets the crowd in Manchester, N.H., Jan. 10, 2012. Less than a week later, Huntsman announced he was suspending his campaign for president. UPI/Matthew Healey
Jon Huntsman greets the crowd in Manchester, N.H., Jan. 10, 2012. Less than a week later, Huntsman announced he was suspending his campaign for president. UPI/Matthew Healey | License Photo

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C., Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Monday's presidential candidates' debate in South Carolina focused on the negative tone of the campaign, particularly regarding Mitt Romney's business record.

With the field of GOP hopefuls narrowed down to five following the departure of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the remaining candidates gathered in Myrtle Beach for a debate televised live by Fox News Channel.


The first question was directed at former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was asked to defend recent attacks on Romney's background as a venture capitalist. Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as well as a so-called super PAC that supports Gingrich, have criticized Bain Capital LLC for taking over and eventually closing distressed companies, while realizing multimillion dollar profits -- but the criticism has resulted in a backlash from defenders of Bain's business practices, who see the attacks as directed at the free enterprise system.


"I raised questions that I think are legitimate questions," Gingrich said.

He said explaining his business practices was "part of (Romney's) responsibility as a candidate."

Perry called on Romney to release his tax returns "so the people of this country can see how you made your money" and "decide whether we've got a flawed candidate or not."

Romney said later in the debate he would "probably" released his tax returns in April.

"I hadn't planned on releasing tax records but you know if that's been the tradition I'm not opposed to doing that," he said. "I'm happy to do so."

Huntsman announced Monday he had suspended his campaign for president and supports Romney for the Republican nomination. Just last week, Huntsman called Romney "pretty much unelectable."

"Today our campaign for the presidency ends but our campaign to build a better and brighter America continues," Huntsman said on his Web site.

"We will continue to fight for a tax code that unleashes opportunity rather than stifles it; an energy policy that ends our addiction to foreign oil; congressional term limits; education reform that prepares our kids for the 21st century; and financial reform that protects taxpayers from future bailouts."

Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China -- appointed by President Barack Obama -- skipped the Iowa caucuses, banking on a strong showing in last week's New Hampshire primary. He finished a distant third to Romney.


"America is more divided than ever, and for our nation to move forward together with new leadership and unite, the Republican Party must first unite," Huntsman said in the statement. "Today I am suspending my campaign and supporting the candidate who is best-equipped to defeat the president and return conservative leadership to the White House: Governor Mitt Romney."

Huntsman pledged to "never stop fighting for America, and I will continue to put her welfare first, ahead of any partisan or special interest. I am unshaken in my belief that with the right leadership, we can move forward together, and ensure that America's light shines bright for generations and generations to come."

Last week, Huntsman said, referring to Romney: "When you have a candidate who talks about enjoyment in firing people, who talks about pink slips, who makes comments that seem to be so detached from the problems that Americans are facing today, that makes you pretty much unelectable."

Huntsman's decision came the same day he was endorsed by The (Columbia, S.C.) State.

The candidates are to debate again Thursday.

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