Final pre-Iowa caucus debate: Bachmann vs. Gingrich

Rep. Michele Bachmann sought to diminish former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s leading position in the Republican presidential nomination battle at last night’s debate in Sioux City. She accused Gingrich of influence-peddling and weakness on opposition to legalized abortion. Gingrich fought back accusing Bachmann of untruths.

Asked by a Fox News moderator how she could back up her claim that Gingrich was paid to lobby on behalf of Freddie Mac, Bachmann said Gingrich’s paycheck was confirmation.

“That’s the best evidence you can have. Over $1.6 million dollars,” said Bachmann. She said Gingrich was promoting Freddie Mac at a time when she was trying to dismantle the mortgage giant.

“He was taking $1.6 million dollars to influence senior Republicans keep the scam going in Washington D.C. That’s absolutely wrong,” Bachmann said,

In response, Gingrich snapped back at Bachmann. “Sometimes people ought to have facts before they make wild allegations,” he said.

“What she just said is factually not true. I never lobbied under any circumstance,” said Gingrich who doesn’t deny Freddie Mac paid him but says it was for consulting work, not lobbying.

Bachmann said Gingrich’s explanation does not add up.

“You don’t need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, DC.” Bachmann said.

Later in the debate Bachmann was asked to outline her concerns about Gingrich on the issue of legalized abortion. She accused Gingrich of failing to pursue opportunities to defund Planned Parenthood when he was in Congress and that he lacked aggression in opposing fellow Republicans who supported partial birth abortion.

“When he was in Washington D.C. he made an affirmative statement that he would not only support, but that he would campaign for Republicans who were in support of the barbaric procedure known as ‘partial birth abortion’. I could never do that,” said Bachmann who called opposition to legalized abortion a “seminal issue,” for Republicans.

“It’s something that we can’t get wrong and as president of the United States, I will be 100 percent pro-life from conception until natural death,” said Bachmann.

Gingrich, again, accused Bachmann of being wrong.

“Sometimes Congresswoman Bachmann doesn’t get her facts accurate,” said Gingrich who cited his 98.5 percent right to life voting record over 20 years along with efforts to ban partial birth abortion.

But Bachmann did not back down and demanded a rebuttal.

“This isn’t just once. I think it’s outrageous to continue to say over and over through the debates that I don’t have my facts rights when, as a matter of fact, I do. I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States and my facts are accurate,” said Bachmann reiterating her point that Gingrich failed to hold some fellow Republicans accountable on partial birth abortion.

Finally Gingrich conceded the point.

“What I said on that particular issue is, I wouldn’t go out and try to purge Republicans. Now I don’t see how you’re going to govern the country if you’re going to run around and decide who you’re going to purge,” said Gingrich who said he has consistently opposed partial birth abortion and supports prohibiting legalized abortion. Gingrich also said as president, he would defund Planned Parenthood.

In addition to criticizing Gingrich, Bachmann attempted to address electability questions about her candidacy, claiming that the elections she has won for Minnesota Senate and Congress were won not only with the support of Republicans, but also with votes from independents and even Democrats.

“People wanted to know, who could they trust? They knew that, in me, they may not always agree with me, but they knew that I was a woman who said what she meant and meant what she said and they respected that level of authenticity and sincerity,” said Bachmann.

Bachmann will seek to build on any momentum the last few debates have given her struggling campaign with a weeks-long bus tour of Iowa in which she plans stops in all of its 99 counties.

In an interview with MPR News Thursday afternoon on her campaign bus, Bachmann said the strategy mimics her successful summer campaign push in Iowa.

“Of all of the candidates, no one has done more retail politics in Iowa than I have done and I am very happy to have done that. I think that paid off very well for the Straw Poll. I’m the candidate that won the straw poll and now we’re employing the same strategy. We’re going to be in all 99 Iowa counties and I think that’s exactly what we need to do to actually meet people where they are, shake their hand, speak with them. Iowans want to know they matter and they matter to me.”

Bachmann kicks off her bus tour Friday with several stops planned in conservative northwestern Iowa.

The next debate is scheduled for January 7, just a few days after Iowans will finally cast ballots in the GOP nomination battle. That debate will take place in Manchester, N.H. with the remaining candidates.