Ames, Iowa (CNN) - Long simmering tensions between Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty boiled over Thursday during a Republican presidential debate in Iowa, as the two candidates engaged in a harsh back and forth over their White House qualifications.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, faced questions about the universal health care plan he enacted as governor of Massachusetts, but for the second debate in a row, the Republican frontrunner escaped without suffering a campaign-altering blow.
The nationally televised forum, sponsored by Fox News and The Washington Examiner and held in an arena at Iowa State University, took place only hours after news broke that Texas Gov. Rick Perry plans to officially join the presidential fray on Saturday.
With a respectable jobs record, deeply-held Christian beliefs and an ability to raise millions for his campaign, Perry has the potential to fundamentally alter the shape of the Republican race.
The eight candidates on stage - Romney, Pawlenty, Bachmann, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and businessman Herman Cain - were largely complimentary when questioned about Perry.
The kind words were a departure from a series of sharp exchanges between Bachmann and Pawlenty that dominated the first half of the debate.
Pawlenty, a former two-term governor, said Bachmann's record in the House is "non-existent."
"She has said she has a titanium spine," Pawlenty said. "It's not her spine we are worried about, it's her record of results."
He went on, calling her an ineffective member of Congress, naming several laws that President Barack Obama and Democrats have passed since taking 2009.
"If that's your view of effective results, please stop," Pawlenty said. "You're killing us."
A stone-faced Bachmann shot back, accusing Pawlenty of having abandoned his conservative principles while serving in St. Paul.
She said he supported a cap-and-trade plan to cut carbon emissions and once expressing support for a mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, though neither idea became law during his administration.
"That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama if you ask me," Bachmann said.
The two Republicans have engaged in long-distance sniping for weeks as both have raced across the state hunting for votes ahead of the potentially pivotal Ames Straw Poll on Saturday.
Bachmann has surged to the front of Iowa polls by appealing to a coalition of tea party activists and social conservatives, while Pawlenty has struggled to gain traction despite staking his campaign on a strong showing in the caucuses, the opening act of the 2012 Republican nomination fight.
Pawlenty's aggressive posture was an eye-opening departure from the last Republican debate in June, when he shied away from attacking his opponents, subsequently raising questions about his toughness and ability to take on President Obama in a general election.
His performance Thursday was an acknowledgment that his campaign needs to do more to raise doubts about his rivals if he hopes to boost his standing among Republican voters and donors.
After his full court press against Bachmann, Pawlenty pivoted to Romney and highlighted the similarities between the Massachusetts health care law and the one President Obama passed in 2009.
"We are going to have to take it to Barack Obama," Pawlenty said. "We have to show contrasts not similarities."
But Romney dismissed the charge and offered a familiar response, arguing that his health care law was right for Massachusetts and appropriate under the Tenth Amendment that reserves powers not granted under the Constitution to the states.
He called the health care law signed by President Obama a federal takeover and said that as president he would grant states health care waivers.
Later in the debate, Santorum and Paul battled over foreign policy and what they would do about Iran if elected to the White House.
Paul, a libertarian and longtime critic of American efforts overseas, said the United States should engage in diplomacy with Iran.
That prompted a fiery response from Santorum, who has long advocated for regime change in Iran. He told Paul that Americans should be wary of the Iranian nuclear threat.
"Anyone that suggests that Iran is not a threat to this country or is not a threat to stability in the Middle East is obviously not seeing the world very clearly," he said, jumping at the chance to highlight his foreign policy record from his time in the Senate.
Santorum, also a staunch social conservative, raised eyebrows by criticizing Iran's treatment of gays.
The regime, he said, "tramples the rights of women, tramples the rights of gays, tramples the rights of people all throughout their society."
Gingrich won applause with a punchy performance laced with attacks against the media, including the debate hosts.
He accused one debate moderator, Fox News host Bret Baier, of asking "gotcha questions."
The national media is obsessed with political process rather than "basic ideas that distinguish us from Barack Obama," he said.
The debate also presented Huntsman, who returned from his post as ambassador to China in April, with his first chance to address a national audience.
He avoided criticizing his rivals and instead set his sights on introducing himself to voters, touting his record of cutting taxes and fostering a strong business climate in Utah, which had a AAA bond rating during his tenure.
"When you look at me and you ask, 'What is that guy going to do?', look at what I did as governor," Huntsman said.
They need to go after Romney for making his millions breaking up companies and putting people out of work. His brand of capitalism is part of the cause of the mess we're in now.
So, milk toast Tim finally said something face to face. He's yellow....but it helps him that Michelle is a nut. Two loser that will end up heading home soon.
Gosh these guys either have short memories or were to young to understand why the cold war never led to a nuclear war. It was called MAD "mutually assured destruction" it still applies today.
Iran should comply with its international treaty obligations, and be negotiated with accordingly. They need to be reminded ony of one fact If ever they attain a nuclear weapon or fire it In hostility against any nation then Mad applies to them in particular.
After that this never ending coverage of multiple potential Republican candidates for nomination as the candidate to oppose President Obama in 2012 is only useful to some degree in that it shows what it is already well known for any one of them to win the parties Nomination.
a) Oppose any and all Legislation pssed by the Obama administration. ( Polite reminder House and Senate passed them as well despite all the tricks/ delays/ filibusters.)
b)That you need to be right of center right to be the favored candidate.
It is far too early to be paying so much attention to all these guys/dolls. I suspect quite a few will drop out soon. It could be important to report thier every word starting In January next year and save all of us and them a lot of wasted money.
Does Bachmann REALLY think she has a chance in hell?
You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price search online for "Penny Health" If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy about it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!
Since 1930, the federal government has run deficits in all but eight years. As a percent of the overall economy, the annual gap between spending and revenue is at its highest since WWII at 31%. The gap is currently 8.3%.
The most recent surplus was – you guessed it – when Clinton was president.
You remember those days, when the top tax rate was 39%?
Why is it that the wealthiest in this country don't want to pay just 3% more than they are now for the good of the country?
THAT'S a question that should have been asked of these yahoos tonight ...
Santorum wants regime change in Iran ... is he willing to send his 18-year-old son, Richard, Jr., to fight and then in a couple years after that, send his now 16-year-old son to join him on the battlefield?
Everyone knows Romney is going to win the nomination, the others are just fighting for a possible number 2 spot. The funny thing is there's really no distinction between any of them other than the level of crazy they are willing to display. The entire debate is a Obama-hate fest to seem who can call him a failure the most creatively.
I still think Romney is the only republican who is competent to run in the general election.
Paul says that we should talk to Iran and doesn't have a problem with Iran having a nuclear weapon (fission I presume). That is all well and good trying to talk to Iran if they would bother to have something to say that was worth listening to or even if they would talk back. The problem is that Iran hasn't really talked with us; more like they yell at us. Besides, their continued support of terrorist groups that attack us and our allies is something of concern to put it mildly.
Bachmann, I guess, doesn't understand how the climate is changing. That is ashame since her kids are going to have to live through it. The weather is chaning such that there are more droughts and floods; more snow means that there is more warmer weather getting more water into the air. She either can't or won't see the handwriting on the wall.
Again Ron Paul schools the entire group of Candidates.
Leads Fox News Poll by huge margin.
Leads all online polls and Facebook poll.
Had the big applause several times.
Schooled Santorum several times.
The Ron Paul Revolution has grown massive and growing daily.
Ron paul is winning Ioaw Straw Poll and Romney has refused to be in any Straw Polls Nation Wide.
Ah ha ha ha ha
Ron Paul 2012
The tensions were there and now the battle begins towards each other and Obama may get a slight break for a while..
Bachmann and POORlenty struck each other out and the moderators baited the hook and they both grabbed it – Bachmann probably won the fight;
Ron Paul was feisty, funny and got the most applaud;
Santorum was ANGRY but had every reason to be because he was neglected almost the entire night until he spoke up;
Cain was LOUD and could not erase his negative opinions on other races;
Newt was SHARP and did not allow the panel to "GET HIM';
Huntsman seemed like a "WET NOODLE" – I don't know if that is he true "voice" – but he sounded weak. He stood his ground;
As far as MITTens, to me he probably came out of the debate unscathed. He will continue to have his supporters but in my opinion, he's still a "flip-flopper".
Isnt that cute how they all agreed to not call the sitting POTUS President Obama. They must have signed a pledge in hopes that all the stupid people would find the name Barack Obama offensive and not vote for him again.Newt went all Palin on the Fox moderator,Pawlenty was actually 100% correct on Crazy Eyes Bachmann's lack of accomplishments.Once again Ron Paul was the smartest and most sensible one in the class. Rick Perry will mop the floor with all of these bumbling fools.