The 13th and final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses began on Thursday with Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich shooting back at critics who doubt he can defeat President Obama next year. Ronald Reagan, he said, trailed Jimmy Carter by 30 points a year before the general election.
“And if people said, ‘Gosh, electability is the No. 1 issue,’ they wouldn't have nominated him,” said Gingrich in Sioux City, Iowa. “What they said is, [Reagan] believes what he is talking about. He has big solutions. He can get the economy growing. He understands foreign policy, and he is the person I want to have debate Jimmy Carter.”
The former House speaker, whose sterling debate performances fueled his surge to the top of the GOP field, touted his plan to square off against the president in Lincoln-Douglas style debates.
“I believe I can debate Barack Obama, and I think in seven three-hour debates, Barack Obama will not have a leg to stand on in trying to defend a record that is terrible and an ideology that is radical,” Gingrich said.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed Gingrich’s chief rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, whether he could debate Obama as effectively as Gingrich. The former governor said that his business experience gives him the background to take on the president.
“I understand, by the way, from my successes and failures what it will take to put Americans back to work with high-paying jobs,” he said. “I can debate President Obama based on that understanding. I have credibility on the economy when he doesn't.”