Republican Debate: MLK Day Edition

Blogging the Beltway: Candidates talk black poverty, voting rights and the "food stamp president."


On Monday night, the five remaining Republican presidential candidates debated in South Carolina. The two-hour event, broadcast on Fox News and held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, covered a broad range of topics, but with its overlap on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the conversation repeatedly turned to invocations of Dr. King’s legacy and the African-American community. In between lively responses from the crowd (vigorous boos at moderator Juan Williams’ suggestion that some of Newt Gingrich’s past comments were offensive to black people, thunderous applause at abstinence education) the candidates made their cases for what they think is best. Here are some of their insights:

1. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney Spar on Ex-Felon Voting Rights

Responding to a question about the nastiness of attacks in the race, Santorum confronted Romney about a pro-Romney Super PAC that is airing an attack ad that falsely claims Santorum supports allowing felons in prison to vote. After explaining his actual view — that people who have served their prison time and completed their probation and parole, should have their right to vote restored — he pressed Romney to give his position on the matter:

Should felons who have served their time, who’ve gone through probation and parole, and exhausted their entire sentence, should they be given the right to have a vote? This is Martin Luther King Day. This is a huge deal in the African-American community because we have very high rates of incarceration, disproportionately higher rates, particularly with drug crimes in the African-American community. The bill I voted on is the Martin Luther King voting rights bill. And this was a provision that … particularly targeted African Americans. And I voted to allow them to have their voting rights back once they completed their sentence.

After much hedging, Romney finally answered: “I don’t think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again.” Santorum pounced, pointing out that while Romney was governor of Massachusetts the state policy was to allow violent felons to not only vote after they’d completed their sentences, but also while they were on probation and parole.

2. Rick Perry Stands Up for South Carolina’s Voter ID Law

Williams asked Perry about his position against the Department of Justice’s challenge to South Carolina’s photo ID law: “Gov. Perry, are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?” Perry answered that the Obama administration has gone too far:

I’m saying that the state of Texas is under assault by federal government. I’m saying also that South Carolina is at war with this administration. When you look at what this Justice Department has done, not only have they taken them to task on voter ID, they’ve also taken them to task on their immigration law, and in the most egregious thing, obviously, is this National Labor Relations Board where they’ve come in to a right-to-work state and told the state of South Carolina, “We’re not going to let a private company come in here,” that is irresponsible. I will suggest to you that it’s unconstitutional. And when I’m the president of the United States, the states are going to have substantially more rights to take care of their business, and not be forced by the EPA or by the Justice Department, for that matter, to do things that are against the will of the people.

3. Gingrich Says the Unemployed Must Help Themselves