Gingrich, Santorum speak at Ala. GOP Presidential forum

Gingrich, Santorum speak at Ala. GOP Presidential forum

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People have lined up around the block waiting to snag one of the 2,000 seats inside. People have lined up around the block waiting to snag one of the 2,000 seats inside.
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum spoke to a crowd of nearly 2,000 Monday night at the Alabama Theatre during the state's first-ever presidential forum.

Each candidate gave a 15 minute speech, followed by three questions from a panel.

Alabama GOP Chairman Bill Armistead started off the night by encouraging the audience to go out and vote "if you want to replace Barack Obama in the White House."

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum then took the stage and spoke about his plan for energy, saying he has a "bold plan" for energy development and manufacturing. Santorum said Obamacare is a "gamechanger" for America and the reason he is in this presidential race. He also criticized the Obama administration for overreaching into people's lives.

When asked by the panel how he would lead this country back to God, Santorum said he believes religious liberty is the trunk from which all other liberties span. Santorum  quoted one of his favorite sayings: "Preach the gospel, and if you have to, speak." He said his response as a public figure is to go out and behave in a way that matches what you say you believe in.

The next question the panel asked Santorum was, "What will you do to keep special interest groups from interfering with legislative and administrative decisions?" Santorum said so far, only 11 lobbyists have contributed to his campaign. He said his support for his campaign is from hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the U.S. He described his supporters as "average citizens with no lobbyists and no voice, except the voice of wanting to be free again."

The third question from the panel pertained to national security: What actions will you take to ensure our tomorrow is greater and more secure than our today?

In response, Santorum said he has a "definitive plan" for what to do about Iran, to overthrow that government and place sanctions on them to keep them from developing or using nuclear weapons.

In closing, Santorum said, "We need someone who will stand up and unapologetically talk about what made this country great. There's one candidate who can do that, and I ask for your support."

Newt Gingrich then took the stage. His first remarks centered around the issue of energy and oil.

"We should develop oil to the point where no American president would ever again bow to a Saudi king," he said.

Gingrich made it clear he is for drilling oil, as opposed to what he says is Obama's plan for a fuel source--algae. While he didn't dispute the validity of Obama's suggestion for an alternate fuel source, he critized the plan as a short-term solution, saying, "I do not think this summer we will be putting algae in our cars."

"You can elect President Algae and have $10 a barrel, or you can elect President Drilling and have it $2.50 a barrel," Gingrich said.

Gingrich continued by saying Washington will never voluntarily change itself, but in order to change, citizens must be active.

Gingrich also said one of the first things he would do if elected to office would be to repeal Obamacare.

In response to the panel's first question of how he would lead America back to God, Gingrich answered that America needs a president who is prepared to pray and prepared to really lead the nation to God. In addition, he said he would "bring federal judges back into enforcing the constitution instead of re-writing it."

The panel asked the same second question as well, inquiring about how Gingrich plans to keep special interest groups from interfering with administrative or legislative decisions.

Gingrich answered that the country needs a modern management system versus civil service and said he would take public unions head-on.

The final question for Gingrich was also the same for Santorum: What actions will you take to make sure our nation is secure?

"I believe in strength and firmness as a national strategy," Gingrich said. He stated he has a long-term and short-term strategy for dealing with Iran. His long-term plan involves undermining and replacing the Iranian government using non-military means.

"We could defeat the dictatorship in Iran decisively if we have a real strategy to do so," Gingrich said.

In the short-term, Gingrich said the U.S. would understand Israeli military action if Iran continues to be "provacative" to Israel.

Gingrich summed up the reason that he believes he's the Republican candidate who could win the election against Obama by citing his experience in founding the Georgia GOP and designing several successful Republican campaigns.

"I do not believe the other candidates can beat Obama and I believe this race is the most important in our lifetime," Gingrich said. He ended by saying he wants to win the election "in a principaled way so that we can actually change Washington."

Alabama has 50 delegates at stake on Tuesday and Mississippi has 40. The combined 90 delegates are very attractive to the presidential candidates for different reasons.

Romney, who did not attend the debate but did visit Alabama this week, wants to build on his delegate lead and show he can do well in the South. Santorum wants to make himself the conservative alternative to Romney. Gingrich and Paul each want as many delegates as possible to keep their campaigns rolling into the rest of the spring.

SLIDESHOW: Presidential forum at the Alabama Theatre

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