AMES, Iowa - Minnesota's two presidential candidates may find it hard to patch things up following several contentious exchanges at the GOP debate in Iowa Thursday night. The open friction, on display for a national Fox News cable audience, came two days before the pivotal Iowa Straw Poll.
Former Governor Tim Pawlenty questioned Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's qualifications for the presidency, based on her legislative record. It's a charge he's made in televised interviews in recent weeks, and he didn't pull any punches when he stood next to Bachmann on a stage at Iowa State University.
"She's done wonderful things in her life, absolutely wonderful things," Pawlenty said, as he looked to his right at Bachmann.
"But it's an undisputable fact that in Congress her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent. That's not going to be good enough for our candidate for president of the United States."
Bachmann fired back by attacking Pawlenty's record as governor of Minnesota, from 2003 to 2011.
"You implemented cap-and-trade in our state, and you praised the unconstitutional individual mandate, and you called for people in our state to purchase health insurance that government would mandate," Bachmann said, facing Pawlenty.
"Third you said the era of small government was over. That's sounds a lot more like Barack Obama if you ask me!"
Pawlenty shook his head and mouthed the words "not true" as she spoke. He did not sign a cap-n-trade bill in Minnesota, but did sign a bill requiring 25 percent of the electricity generated in the state come from wind and other renewable resources by 2025.
He did say on several occasions that the nation's health care system was evolving into a universal care model, but did not espouse a government single-payer model or an individual mandate.
"It's not the kinds of things she said when I was governor of Minnesota," Pawlenty said in response, "And, moreover, she's got a record of misstating and making false statements. And that's another example on that list."
Bachmann's defense of her legislative record was that Democrats controlled Congress and the White House when she arrived on Capitol Hill.
"Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama ran Congress, but I gave them a run for their money!"
She asserted she has demonstrated leadership qualities by mounting a battle against health care reform and the so-called cap-n-trade legislation designed to reign in greenhouse gases.
"I'm very proud of that record. That is what qualifies me as a fighter and a representative of the people to go to Washington DC into the White house," she said.
Pawlenty had one more zinger left for the Tea Party favorite, who leads him in the polls both nationally and in Iowa.
"She says she's got a titanium spine. It's not her spine we're worried about. It's her record of results," Pawlenty quipped, "If that's your view of effective leadership with results, please stop because you're killing us!"
The two also sparred over the cigarette tax, or health impact fee, Pawlenty signed in 2005 to end a budget stalemate and a partial government shutdown. On the campaign trail Bachmann has criticized Pawlenty for fee, which raised cigarette taxes by 75 cents per pack.
When one of the Fox moderators asked Bachmann, who was a state senator at the time, voted for the bill she blamed Pawlenty. The same legislation, HF139, contained some "informed consent" restrictions on abortions which she had championed.
"If a member cast a vote one way they would be increasing the cigarette tax. If they cast the vote another way, they would not be voting for the pro-life protection," Bachmann explained, "The governor put us in that box, and I chose to protect human life."
The bill required doctors to inform women seeking abortions about the health risks of the operation. The bill also required physicians to tell tell the woman the approximate age of the fetus and the gestational development.
Bachmann initially created some confusion by describing the bill incorrectly.
"Governor Pawlenty cut a deal with the special interest groups, and he put in the same bill a vote to increase the cigarette tax as well as a vote that would take away protections to the unborn."
Pawlenty called attention to the gaffe.
"Her answer's illogical. If there were two bad things in the bill, a tax increase and we were hypothetically stripping away pro-life protections -- which we weren't -- then it's a double reason to vote against it."
Eventually the one-on-one rhetorical battle ran so long it began to annoy other candidates, and the crowd at the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium as well.
"There's some people here who haven't had a chance to say a lot," Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said, prompting a loud roar of sympathy from the audience.
"I understand. You have the next question, Senator. I promise," the moderator responded, also drawing applause.
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