The first major debate of the 2012 US presidential primaries took place in New Hampshire Monday night, giving each of the seven candidates a chance to rise above the widespread view that the field is a poor one.

Michele Bachmann, the self-styled Tea Party leader in the US Congress, offered the only news of the evening by announcing she had filed papers to officially enter the race, the last of those taking part in the debate.

The rest of the otherwise sedate evening was marked more by backtracking than policy adventurousness, where significant differences were largely replaced with stock quotes.

Newt Gingrich smoothed over his attack on the Republican’s plan to wind back social security, which he had described as “right wing social engineering”.

Mitt Romney, as current frontrunner, answered for his health care plan in Massachusetts by saying it was not the same as the Obama plan. Tim Pawlenty, who had attacked him over those similarities, declined to repeat the attacks on stage.

Crikey captured some other highlights after the 12pm AEST finish of the debate…

Newt Gingrich: “The Reagan recovery clearly worked … and that’s a fact.”

Michele Bachmann: “I will not rest until I repeal Obamacare.”

Rick Santorum: “I think the Tea Party is a great backstop for America. I love it when people hold up the constitution.”

Ron Paul: “You have to have capital. You have to have strong currency, not a weak currency. It’s the job of the fed to weaken it.”

Michele Bachmann: “The EPA should be renamed the Job Killing Organisation of America.”

Newt Gingrich: “We built the transcontinental rail road without a national rail road department.”

Herman Cain: “Raising the retirement age, by itself, won’t solve the problem.”

Herman Cain: “I do not believe in sharia law in American courts. I believe in American law in American courts. Period.”

Tim Pawlenty: “If the federal government can’t protect its borders, let the states do it.”

Newt Gingrich: “Libya was the second largest producer of people who wanted to kill Americans in Iraq.”

Mitt Romney: “We will not raise the debt ceiling unless the president becomes a leader on the issues that America people care about.”

Ron Paul: “I’m the commander in chief, I tell the commanders what to do. I’d tell them to leave Afghanistan. I’d tell them to leave Iraq. And I wouldn’t fight a war in Libya.”

Tim Pawlenty: “I think I’m the only one up here who has reliably appointed conservative appointments to the supreme court.”

Tim Pawlenty: “The separation of church and state was designed to protect people from government, not government from people.”

Tim Pawlenty: “I think Sarah Palin is qualified to be POTUS.”

Peter Fray

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