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New Hampshire GOP debate belonged to Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann

Rep. Michele Bachmann used the occasion of the debate to announce that she is definitely running for president. As for front-runner Mitt Romney, no competitors inflicted damage on his campaign.

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“If you're dealing with something as big as Medicare and you can't have a conversation with the country where the country thinks what you're doing is the right thing, you better slow down,” Gingrich said. “Remember, we all got mad at Obama because he ran over us when we said don't do it. Well, the Republicans ought to follow the same ground rule. If you can't convince the American people it's a good idea, maybe it's not a good idea.”

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The Ryan plan would turn Medicare into a voucher system, ending it as a fee-for-service entitlement. Public opinion on the idea is negative, and Democrats have used it as a blunt instrument to attack Republicans. But Gingrich’s critique has injected a discordant note within the GOP, and his continuing defense of it Monday night reignited that issue.

In the end, though, the night belonged to Bachmann and Romney. As a sitting member of Congress, Bachmann could speak in the present tense about her actions to fight the Obama agenda.

“I was the very first member of Congress to introduce the full-scale repeal of Obamacare,” she said.

It’s way too soon to say whether the GOP nomination race will boil down to Bachmann versus Romney. But there’s certainly a path to that outcome. Bachmann, who is originally from Iowa, could be a strong contender in the Iowa caucuses, where social conservatives often win the day. Caucus-goers could hesitate over the fact that she’s only a member of the House – not a typical launch pad for winning the presidency.

Bachmann has many miles to go as a full-fledged candidate for voters to determine her viability. But she speaks the tea party and social conservative language fluently, and thus she’s a force to watch.

See also the Monitor's Election 101 series of profiles of these Republican candidates for president:

Election 101: Who is Gary Johnson?

Election 101: Ten questions about Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate

Election 101: Ron Paul sets sights on 2012. Ten things to know about him.

Election 101: Is Herman Cain's media savvy enough to make him presidential? 10 things to know about him

Election 101: Tim Pawlenty as 'everyman's' candidate? Ten points about who he is.

Election 101: Nine facts about Mitt Romney and his White House bid

Election 101: Nine things to know about Rick Santorum and his White House bid


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