(CNN) - Mitt Romney was the first candidate to respond to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's death Thursday, saying the world is a better place with the longtime leader gone.
"I think it's about time Gadhafi, a terrible tyrant that killed his own people and murdered Americans and others in the traged in Lockerbie," Romney said after a town hall in Iowa. "The world is a better place with Gadhafi gone."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a statement Thursday saying the death was good for the people of Libya.
"It should bring the end of conflict there, and help them move closer to elections and a real democracy," Perry said. "The United States should work closely with Libya to ensure the transition is successful, and that a stable, peaceful nation emerges."
Perry also urged the United States to actively ensure Gadhafi's weapons are secured.
"These weapons pose a real danger to the United States and our allies, and we cannot help secure them through simple observation," Perry said.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Gadhafi's death was good news for the entire region.
"It is just one step in a long and tumultuous turnover that is coming to Northern Africa," Huntsman said in a statement. "It is my sincere wish that this news accelerates Libya's transition to a society that respects openness, democracy, and human rights."
Interim Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told reporters in Tripoli Thursday that he was killed.
Romney's reaction follows months of statements from the GOP candidates on the campaign trail and in presidential debates as events unfolded in Libya.
The most outspoken criticism of President Barack Obama's action in the African country came from Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota who repeatedly characterized the policy of the U.S. as "flawed."
At a June CNN presidential debate, Bachmann said the U.S. is "leading from behind" and said the president was wrong to defer leadership in the region to other nations. She continued the same line of attack in September.
"President Obama's own people said that he was leading from behind. The United States doesn't lead from behind," Bachmann said at the New Hampshire event. "As commander in chief, I would not lead from behind. We are the head. We are not the tail. The president was wrong."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also leveled criticism of U.S. action in the region
Santorum said waiting for the U.N. showed Obama's indecisiveness, while Paul, who is typically a critic of foreign intervention, said Gadhafi's past as a "bad guy" should not justify war.
"I wouldn't start a war in Libya," Paul said at the CNN Debate in June.
"There are a lot of bad people in the world. Does he [Obama] want to do it in every dictatorship around the country?" Paul said in a June interview on CNN's "John King USA."
After tweaking his positions based on unfolding events, Gingrich, in June, said the U.S. needed to "find a new and very different strategy."
At the same June debate, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain called the situation "an absolute mess."
"The United States didn't understand the problem, didn't have the intelligence," Cain said. "Is it a U.S. vital interest? If the answer is no, then we don't go any further."
Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China, cheered the rebels and was not directly critical of the president. However, he did say a clear exit strategy was needed.
"My original premise was based on Libya not being a core U.S. national security interest, and I maintain that view today," Huntsman said on PBS in August. "Although I cheer on the rebels and I think it's terrific."
While former Massachusetts governor Romney has supported the mission, he said the operation was "muddled."
"Our involvement in Libya was marked by inadequate clarity of purpose before we began the mission," Romney said at an August speech in Texas. "And the mission muddled during the operation and ongoing confusion as to our role in the future."
Perry said in an August press release said the "crumbling of Muammar Ghadafi's reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration."
- CNN's Peter Hamby, Robert Yoon and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.