Five rumored Republican presidential hopefuls made an early case for their eventual candidacies before a crowd of conservative activists Friday in New Hampshire. Each one slammed President Obama's economic policies and pledged to repeal of the healthcare law.
On hand for the first 2012 candidate "cattle call" to take place in the first-in-the-nation primary state were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE (Minn.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and conservative talk-show host Herman Cain.
The potential candidates didn't engage one another Friday, with each taking turns at the dais for eight-minute speeches, followed by brief Q&As with Tim Phillips, the president of the conservative host group Americans for Prosperity.
For Pawlenty and Bachmann, it was the first time the two Minnesotans appeared at the same event in an early presidential state. For Romney, it marked his first major appearance since officially forming a presidential exploratory committee earlier this month.
Pawlenty led off the event, touting his fiscal credentials and highlighting his record as Minnesota governor. Pressed by Phillips on his one-time support for a cap-and-trade plan to control greenhouse gas emissions in his home state, Pawlenty said, "Everybody's got a couple of clunkers in their record."
"I said it was a mistake," Pawlenty said of his previous position on cap-and-trade. "It was stupid and I'm sorry."
Santorum, who called for an energy policy that prioritizes offshore drilling, made a similar mea culpa on the issue of earmarks.
Reminded by AFP's Phillips that during his time in the Senate he was a frequent earmarker, Santorum said his position has shifted and that the process has gotten "out of control."
"We owe the American people cold turkey on this," Santorum said of swearing off earmarks.
Bachmann, who has been a thorn in the side of her party's leadership in Congress in recent months, told the crowd there is no reason for a GOP-led House to permit funding for "ObamaCare," labeling the healthcare law Obama's "Frankenstein."
"Right now, what we should be doing is fully defunding it. If we can't repeal it, we shouldn't give one dime to put this Frankenstein into place," said Bachmann, who pledged she wouldn't rest until the law was repealed.
"If you have conservatives in charge, why in the world would we give even one dime to inflate this monster?" asked Bachmann. "That's the line in the sand we have to draw now to defund Obamacare."
Cain, the former CEO of Godfathers Pizza, focused his remarks largely on taxes and the regulatory structure. The one-time Georgia Senate candidate said he would make Bush-era tax rates permanent and appoint a "regulatory reduction commission" to target onerous regulations on businesses.
As for Romney, the field's presumed frontrunner laced into Obama's economic policies, casting them as based on European ideals and faulting the president for worsening the economic issues he inherited.
"He looked to Europe," Romney said. "What he saw over there is when their economies got in trouble, they spent more money and borrowed more money. So that's what he did."
The former governor again faced questions about the healthcare plan he championed as governor of the Bay State.
Romney called the Massachusetts law "an experiment," admitting that "some parts didn't work," but he didn't directly answer a question on whether or not he regretted signing it into law.
"I went to work to try to solve a problem," Romney said of the Massachusetts law, which has drawn comparisons to the law championed by President Obama. "It may not be perfect -- by the way, it is not perfect -- some parts of that experiment worked, some parts didn't, some things I'd change."
The former Massachusetts governor also joked about Obama's decision earlier this week to release his long-form birth certificate, saying no one was more disappointed than Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE.
"The president finally produced a long-form birth certificate," Romney said. "You know, there was no one more disappointed than that amiable, know-it-all windbag, Joe Biden."