Donald Lambro

The leading contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination showed their stuff in a nationally televised debate in New Hampshire Monday night, and they weren't the "weak field" some polls had suggested.

If there was a common denominator that permeated the two-hour debate, it was the candidates' collective strategy to train all of their political firepower on President Obama: his failure to restore robust economic growth; his failure to lead in foreign policy; his spendthrift policies that have plunged the country into unfathomable debt.

This was a big disappointment to the national news media and the well-paid TV analysts who hoped the candidates would start beating each other up, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

For a couple of weeks or more, the expectation was that some of the participants would gang up on Mitt Romney for the "Romneycare" plan he enacted as governor of Massachusetts. John King, CNN's moderator of the debate, tried to coax former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty into attacking the state health care law he has dubbed Obamneycare, but he wasn't biting.

These candidates, front-runners and dark horses alike, had only one goal in mind from the moment they bolted from the gate: Cut Obama down to size. And they did it with relish.

Brandishing his business credentials as a successful venture capital investor who helped dozens of start-up companies, Romney went after Obama for attempting to pick the economy's winners and losers with disastrous results.

"There is a perception in this country that the government knows better than the private sector, that Washington and President Obama have a better view of how an industry ought to run," Romney said. He kept hammering away throughout the debate on the nearly 20 million unemployed or underemployed Americans and Obama's utter failure to turn the economy around. If anything, he has made the economy worse, Romney said.

Defending his sweeping tax-cut plan to sharply boost economic expansion and job creation, Pawlenty said, "This idea that we can't have 5 percent growth in America is hogwash," noting the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s led to nearly 25 years of virtually uninterrupted economic growth.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, attempting to get his campaign back on its feet after the mass resignation of his top staff, showed why he still remains one of the most scintillating speakers on the campaign trail.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.