Republican rivals go after Gingrich, Romney in Iowa debate

Posted Dec. 11, 2011, at 8:38 p.m.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sharp-elbowed Republican rivals assailed the professorial demeanor of newly minted front-runner Newt Gingrich and the cool efficiency of Mitt Romney in a debate Saturday, painting them as inconsistent conservatives who agree too much with President Barack Obama to topple him.

Throughout, Gingrich was center stage for assaults, accused of whipping up the Middle East, criticized for his work for the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, and even lampooned for a proposal to mine minerals on the moon. He was forced to answer whether his three marriages and Washington insider status would hobble his campaign, as his rivals suggested that infidelity is a legitimate concern f or voters.

“If you would cheat on your wife, why wouldn’t you cheat on your business partner, or anybody else for that matter?” Rick Perry asked, adding that when he married, “not only did I make a vow to my wife, but a vow to God. That’s pretty heavy lifting in my book.”

Gingrich responded that he had made mistakes and asked God for forgiveness, and he hopes that voters will judge him as he is now.

Gingrich and Romney, the top-polling candidates, went after each other, too, as the candidates debated with just 24 days until Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucuses. While Gingrich has surged to a lead, analysts and politicos say the field in Iowa is wide open, and any candidate could emerge with a strong showing as the GOP begins to vote for its nominee to challenge Obama.

Obama: Jobless rate may fall to 8 percent by election

NEW YORK — President Barack Obama thinks the U.S. unemployment rate could fall to 8 percent before the presidential election in November, according to a partial transcript of an interview to be broadcast Sunday Night.

“I think it’s possible,” Obama said when specifically asked whether he thought the rate would fall to 8 percent before he faces re-election, according to the transcript released by CBS on Saturday.

“But … I’m not in the job of prognosticating on the economy. I’m in the job of putting in place the tools that allow the economy to thrive and Americans to succeed,” Obama added.

The unemployment rate, which now stands at 8.6 percent, has not fallen to 8 percent or below since Obama took office in January 2009 in the midst of a near meltdown of the financial system.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president on Saturday called on Republicans to confirm his choice to head a new consumer watchdog office, saying middle-class Americans deserve better protection from the type of deceptive business practices that factored into the financial crisis.

New fighting reported in Syria

BEIRUT—Fierce clashes broke out between security forces and army defectors in several parts of Syria on Sunday, activists said, as opposition supporters launched a general strike to press President Bashar Assad to step down.

As many as 23 people were killed Sunday as government forces clashed with armed insurgents and protesters in a number of provinces, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists that collects and disseminates information from around the country.

The Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group, has been warning for days about a possible bloodbath in the central city of Homs, where tanks are said to be massing and dozens of checkpoints being set up. The government denies that an assault is imminent.

Pressure has been mounting on Assad’s regime from inside and outside the country as the death toll from months of unrest continues to rise. The United Nations says more than 4,000 people have been killed since March, when large-scale anti-government protests began, prompting a violent crackdown.

Strong quake shakes from Mexico City to Acapulco

MEXICO CITY — A magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck in Mexico’s western Guerrero state, shaking buildings and causing panic in the nation’s capital and the Pacific resort of Acapulco. Officials said at least three people died, but there were no reports of widespread damage.

The U.S. Geological Service initially estimated the quake at magnitude at 6.8, but downgraded it to 6.7 and then 6.5. A quake of that magnitude is capable of causing severe damage, although the 40.3-mile depth of this temblor lessened its impact.

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