GOP contenders square off in heated debate in Arizona

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GOP contenders square off in heated debate in Arizona

CREATED Feb 22, 2012

Reporter: Marcelino Benito

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - All four Republican presidential contenders took the stage in Mesa, Ariz. Wednesday night. It's part of their last ditch attempt to win over voters before a string of primaries in coming weeks. 

The candidates wasted no time in pouncing on each others positions. Republican Rick Santorum was the focus of attacks due to his recent rise in the polls. Mitt Romney went after Santorum on earmarks.

"While I was trying to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the 'Bridge to Nowhere,'" said Romney.

Ron Paul went as far as calling Santorum "a fake" for campaigning on being a fiscal conservative while supporting millions of dollars in earmarks. Santorum did his best to deflect his opponents' attacks and go on offense. "Romneycare" was an easy target.

"Bottom line is you used federal funds to take over health care," Santorum said. "It would be very difficult for Romney to be the nominee of our party and run against Obamacare. It would take that issue off the table."

Former front runner Newt Gingrich largely stayed on the sidelines strategically chiming in on certain issues. He played the role of the party's elder statesman, but pounced on the opportunity to attack the Obama's administration handling of border security.

"It's stupid to say we can't control our border," Gingrich said. "It is a failure of will and enforcement."

The issue of contraception also popped up in the debate. The crowd booed as CNN moderator John King posed a question on birth control. Santorum raised eyebrows earlier in the week when he described contraception as "dangerous." He addressed those questions head on saying the United States is facing a crisis where 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock.

This was the first debate in almost a month. It comes on the heels of a Santorum surge. A recent CNN poll shows Santorum trails Romney by just four points in Arizona, a state the Romney campaign expected to be an easy win.