WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopefuls competing to challenge U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012 faced off in a debate in Iowa on Thursday, where the state-by-state Republican nominating contest kicks off in less than three weeks.
Here are some of their main quotes.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Defending his merit as front-runner:
"I believe I can debate Barack Obama and I think in seven three-hour debates Barack Obama will not have a leg to stand on."
Before answering a question on the Keystone pipeline:
"You know I sometimes get accused of using language that's too strong. So I've been standing here editing. I'm very concerned about not appearing to be zany."
On Michele Bachmann saying he supported partial-birth abortion:
"I have consistently opposed partial birth abortion. I in fact would like to see us go much further than that and eliminate abortions as a choice ... as president I would defund planned parenthood and shift the money to pay for adoption services."
MITT ROMNEY, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR
On how he compares with Gingrich:
"I spent my life in the private sector. I can debate President Obama based upon that understanding. I'll have credibility on the economy when he doesn't. I know what it takes to get this economy going. The president doesn't."
Complaining that Obama asked Iran to give back a downed U.S. drone:
"A foreign policy based on pretty please? You got to be kidding."
Defending past statements about illegal immigrants:
"Get in line behind everyone else. My view is: people who've come here illegally, we welcome you to apply, but you must get in the back of the line."
On changing his stance on gay rights and abortion:
"I am firmly in support of people not being discriminated against based upon their sexual orientation. At the same time, I oppose same-sex marriage. With regards to abortion, I changed my mind ... My experience in life ... has told me that sometimes I was wrong. Where I was wrong I tried to correct myself."
MICHELE BACHMANN, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FROM MINNESOTA
On Gingrich's work for mortgage giant Freddie Mac:
"Evidence is that Speaker Gingrich took 1.6 million dollars. You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling with senior Republicans."
"Speaker Gingrich said that he would actively support and campaign for Republicans who got behind the barbaric practice of partial birth abortions ... What virtue is there in tolerating infanticide?"
RON PAUL, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FROM TEXAS
"I would be a different kind of president. I wouldn't be looking for more power. I as the president wouldn't want to run the world."
On Bachmann calling for stronger U.S. action on Iran:
"You're trying to dramatize this that we have to go and treat Iran like we've treated Iraq ... You cannot solve these problems with war."
On whether he would support the eventual nominee:
"Anybody up here can probably beat Obama."
JON HUNTSMAN, FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR
On the state of the country:
"We have been kicked around as people. We are getting screwed as Americans."
RICK PERRY, TEXAS GOVERNOR
On his poor debate performances
"I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses. There were a lot of folks who said Tim Tebow would not be very good professional quarterback," he said.
On Washington deadlock:
"That's the reason I've called for a part-time Congress. Cut their pay in half. Send them home. Let them get a job like everybody else back home has." (Compiled by Lily Kuo in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham)