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GOP Candidates Close Debate With Religion

Agnus Dei Farrant |
January 26, 2012 | 7:33 p.m. PST

Senior News Editor

 Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul.
Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul.
Republican presidential candidates answered final debate questions in Florida Thursday night, their last attempt at grasping votes before the state’s primary.

An audience member asked where the candidates stand on giving Puerto Rico statehood.

“I believe in self-determination, the Puerto Rican people should have the opportunity to speak on this," Rick Santorum said. "I don’t take a stand on statehood, that’s up to the people of Puerto Rico to decide."

The other candidates were not asked for their opinions.

Another audience member asked how their religious beliefs would affect their role as president.

Ron Paul said that his religious beliefs affect how he treats people and the way he lives, and that what would affect him as president is the oath of office and the promises he makes to American citizens.

Mitt Romney agreed with Paul, saying that the president should carry in his heart what the authors of the Declaration of Independence wrote.

Newt Gingrich gave his response in three parts. He said that anyone who is president faces decisions so enormous that they should go to God and should seek guidance. He said that being faithful is more than spending an hour in church every Sunday, it’s a part of a person.

“Third, one of the reasons I’m running is there has been a war on religion, particularly on Christianity in this country,” Gingrich said. “And I frankly believe it’s important to have leadership that says, enough, we are given the right for religious freedom, not religious oppression by the state.”

Santorum said that faith is a very important part of his life and of the United States.

“The Constitution is there to do one thing; protect God-given rights,” Santorum said. “No other country in the world has God-given rights, not government-given rights. If our president believes rights come from the state, everything the government gives you, it can take away. The role of government is to protect rights that cannot be taken away.”

The debate closed with moderator Wolf Blitzer asking the candidates to say why they were the one most likely to beat President Obama in the presidential election.

Paul cited polls showing that he's a strong competitor against Obama and referred to lessening government involvement. He said citizens should be able to run their lives as they choose as long as they don’t hurt others.

America needs to get back on track, scale back the size of government and maintains its strength abroad in terms of military, Romney said. The former governor said that to make changes in government, you have to bring someone in from the outside.

“People of America recognize this is a critical time, this isn’t an average election,” he said.

Romney added that he has experience in the private sector and in government, and it would be that experience that would beat Obama.

Santorum attempted to differentiate himself from Gingrich and Romney. He said he didn’t agree to government interventions when the private sector suffered as Romney did.

Gingrich gave his final response touching on the past and the future.

“I’ve participated in the two largest republican sweeps of modern time,” Gingrich said. “I’m running, more than anything, for my two grandchildren. I’d like them to be able to look back 50 years from now, at what we did, what the American people did.”

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Reach senior news reporter Agnus Dei Farrant here.

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