Mesa, Ariz. — The final four GOP presidential hopefuls tackled education, contraception and immigration at the CNN Arizona Republican debate on Wednesday at the Mesa Arts Center.
This was the last GOP debate before the Republican primaries in Arizona and Michigan, which will take place on Tuesday. A poll — conducted by CNN, Time and the Opinion Research Corporation — released shortly before the debate showed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would have 36 percent support from likely Republican voters, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum would have 32 percent. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich followed at 18 percent support, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul trailed behind with 6 percent. The poll’s margin of error was 4.5 percentage points.
“Voters are looking and they say ‘Which of these candidates can I trust,’” said debate moderator and CNN anchor John King, “and each of you (the candidates) are trying to make your case to them.”
After duking it out over issues like earmarks and bailouts, the candidates turned to education. Paul and Santorum agreed that local, not federal, governments need to determine education policy.
“There’s no authority for the federal government to be involved in education,” Paul said.
Romney and Gingrich stood united against teachers’ unions, and Gingrich claimed unions care more about “protecting bad teachers” than supporting students.
“We have to stand up to the federal teachers’ unions and put the kids first and the unions behind,” Romney said. Gingrich added that, “Every child is unique, every teacher is unique. Teaching is a missionary vocation. When you bureaucratize it you kill it.”
Another hot-button topic was the issue of birth control, which was unavoidable after President Barack Obama’s call for insurance companies to provide contraception free of charge. Gingrich went so far as to call the president’s new policy an endorsement of “infanticide.”
“When you have the government as the central provider of services you inevitably move towards tyranny,” he said.
According to Paul, who delivered more than 4,000 babies during his career as a gynecologist, birth control is not something the federal government should be regulating. This issue should be left to American citizens, many of whom use birth control to curb their own “immorality,” he said.
“The (birth control) pills can’t be blamed for the immorality of our society,” he said.
When it came to addressing the ills of American culture, all of the candidates advocated for preserving the traditional family unit and promoting abstinence-only education.
“What we’re seeing is a problem in our culture with respect to children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock,” Santorum said. “The bottom line is we have a problem in this country and the family is fracturing.”
Soon after, the candidates confronted one of Arizona’s most critical issues, immigration. They agreed something needs to be done to better protect American borders and enforce immigration policies.
“We’re losing a lot of visitors and workers that could come to this country because we have an inefficient immigration service,” Paul said.
He added that in order to make it more efficient, the government needs to direct fewer efforts overseas. This will save money, which can then be put back into regulating U.S. borders, he said.
Gingrich’s view of the issue coincided with Paul’s. He said we need to ensure easy access for legal immigrants and make it impossible for illegal immigrants to cross into the country.
Romney said the E-Verify system, a database that enables businesses to confirm the employment eligibility of their workers, is the key to successfully reducing illegal immigration. Since E-Verify has been implemented, illegal employee hiring rates have gone down by 14 percent, according to Romney. As president, he said he would make sure all employers would have to do an E-Verify background check on their employees, and if they don’t abide, legal action will be taken against them.
“Just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration. It’s time we finally did it,” Romney said.