Nightly News

Nightly News   |  January 08, 2012

Rivals take aim at Romney

The Republican presidential candidates pile on frontrunner Mitt Romney at Sunday’s debate in what may be their best shot to derail his campaign before Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports

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>>> good evening. maybe it was a lack of rest or maybe they didn't like the overnight reviews, but barely 12 hours after exchanging mostly mild jabs on a new hampshire debate stage last night, the gop candidates were back at it this morning. this time swinging haymakers at the nbc news/facebook debate. some of the heaviest blows aimed at mitt romney , slipping in the latest new hampshire tracking poll, which also finds significant volatility within the rest of the pack. with less than two days to go, the candidates came out today ready to fight for every vote. our political team is in place. we begin with nbc 's peter alexander at a romney rally in exeter, new hampshire . peter, good evening.

>> reporter: lester, good evening to you. now we're hearing from mitt romney 's wife ann romney . there have been several interruptions from occupy here tonight. the new hampshire voters are ruggedly independent, famous for primary surprises. with that in mind, republican candidates hope to take advantage of today's debate to knock romney off his perch. from the very start, mitt romney 's republican rivals tried to cast the front-runner as out of step with mainstream conservatism.

>> we want someone who is going to stand up and fight for the conservative principles, not bail out and not run and not run to the left of ted kennedy .

>> reporter: newt gingrich challenged romney 's authenticity, attacking his efforts to portray himself as a political outsider.

>> this for me, politics is not a career. my life's passion has been my family, my faith and my country.

>> can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney. the idea citizenship showed up in your minds, level with the american people .

>>> >> reporter: romney argued john hunt mnz time working in the obama administration disqualifies him to be the republican nominee.

>> the person who should represent our party running against president obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador in china. this nation is divided because of attitudes like that.

>> the american people are tired of the partisan division. they have had enough. there is no trust left among the american people and the institutions of power.

>> reporter: rick santorum tried to derail ron paul 's libertarian message. arguing while popular among a growing audience, his policies including a hands off approach to iran aren't practical.

>> the problem with congressman paul is all the things that republicans like about him, you can't accomplish and all the thing that they're worried about he'll do day one.

>> reporter: paul held his ground, vowing he'll continue to preach what he calls the gospel of liberty, even if it is not politically popular.

>> we need to defend liberty.

>> right. defend liberty and --

>> and liberty.

>> reporter: and in the day's lightest moment, rick perry trying to pick up the mantle as the tea party candidate, revisited his unforgettable gaffe from an earlier debate where the texas governor couldn't remember the three federal agencies that he would cut.

>> it would be those bureaucrats at the department of commerce and energy and education that we're going to do away with. [ applause ]

>> and that's your final answer?

>> reporter: also here this afternoon in new hampshire , mitt romney told voters that there was a couple of times when he feared he would get fired in his live time. tonight, the romney campaign released a statement saying those times were after college this and romney worked his way up the career ladder knowing his continued employment was by no means guaranteed, but, lester, they gave