US Election 2012: 8 Republican wannabes face off in Iowa
US Presidential rivals Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann have sparred bitterly in a Republican presidential debate that left no clear winner among the eight declared candidates.
Both Mr Pawlenty and Ms Bachmann seek to become the main challenger to Republican front-runner Mitt Romney for the party's nomination. But in the two-hour, debate on Thursday night, the squabbling by Mr Pawlenty and Ms Bachmann allowed Mr Romney to remain above the fray and emerge relatively unscathed by his rivals.
Their efforts to earn the right to face President Barack Obama were newly complicated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who stole some of the spotlight from afar by making it known hours before the debate that he was running for the Republican nomination.
Mr Romney, a multimillionaire businessman who casts himself as a jobs creator, made his own stir earlier in the day when, at the Iowa State Fair, he declared that "corporations are people," drawing ridicule from Democrats.
Those were just the latest twists in the most consequential week yet in the 2012 Republican presidential nomination fight.
Seven candidates - Mr Pawlenty, Ms Bachmann, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain - sought to separate themselves from the packed field and emerge as the chief alternative to Mr Romney.
Though every debate participant criticised Mr Obama, it was clear from the confrontations between Mr Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, and Ms Bachmann, now a member of Congress, who had the most on the line ahead of Saturday's test vote that could well winnow the field.
Mr Pawlenty, who is struggling to gain traction despite spending years laying the groundwork for his campaign, accused Ms Bachmann of achieving nothing significant in Congress, lacking executive experience and having a history of fabrications.
"She's got a record of misstating and making false statements," he said.
Ms Bachmann, who has risen in polls since entering the race this summer and has eclipsed Mr Pawlenty, quickly responded with a list of what she called his liberal policies when he was Minnesota's governor, including his support for legislation to curb industrial emissions.
"You said the era of small government is over," she said. "That sounds a lot like Barack Obama if you ask me."
Much of the rest of the debate was heavily focused on the Democratic incumbent, with Romney and his seven rivals each seeking to prove he or she was the strongest Republican to take on Mr Obama.
Mr Romney, when asked whether he would have vetoed the compromise legislation that Congress gave to the president that raised the debt ceiling, said: "What he served up is not what I would have done if I'd had been president of the United States."
Notably absent from the eight-candidate spectacle were Perry, who was in Texas preparing for a weekend announcement tour to early primary states, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who isn't a candidate but was stoking presidential speculation anew with a visit to the Iowa State Fair.
The nation's teetering economic situation shadowed the debate, with stock market volatility and a downgrade in the US credit rating giving Republicans ample opportunities to criticise Mr Obama. The Democratic president will get his shot to counter the criticism next week during a Midwestern bus tour that will take him through this state that helped launch him on the path to the White House four years ago.