Romney comes under fire from GOP rivals at Sunday debate

The knives were out against Mitt Romney in the first few minutes of Sunday morning's Republican presidential debate.

The first question from moderator David Gregory was to Romney's rivals, asking why they thought the former Massachusetts governor shouldn't be the nominee.

After holding back their fire at Saturday evening's debate — and seeing the headlines Sunday morning that Romney emerged unscathed and his frontrunner status unchanged — the candidates didn't hold back.

"I think he will have a very hard time getting elected," Newt Gingrich said.

"If his record was so great why didn't he run for reelection" for governor, Rick Santorum asked.

Romney fought back, arguing the endorsements he's gotten from conservatives and his business record show he's the best choice to run against President Obama. He repeatedly noted he wasn't a "career politician" but a "business executive."

As for Santorum's charge, Romney said: "I went to Massachusetts to make a difference. I didn't go there to make a political career. ... Run again? That would be about me. I was trying to get the state into the best shape it possibility could."

He defended his record so long and repeatedly that Gingrich snapped at him: "I realize the red light doesn't mean anything to you because you're the frontrunner," in reference to the blinking light that signals to candidates their time has expired.

The former speaker then went on to slam Romney, telling him to drop the "pious baloney" about why he didn't run for reelection. "You had bad reelection numbers," Gingrich said and then noted Romney's failed bids for the Senate in 1994 and for the 2008 presidential nomination.

"You happened to lose to McCain as you lost to Kennedy. You've been running for years. You've been running since the 1990s," Gingrich charged.

Romney countered that he went into the '94 Senate race knowing he'd lose to Kennedy but ran because no Republican was challenging the senator.

"I was wise enough to know I wasn't going to beat him. I was happy he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me," he said.

This story was updated at 10:21 a.m.