Newt Gingrich, left, and Mitt Romney laugh before the Republican presidential… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)
Answering a charge that's at the root of his campaign's inability to break out from the Republican field, Mitt Romney rejected the notion that he's a candidate without a core at the start of tonight's presidential debate.
Romney was first asked to explain his view on the government's rescue plan for the auto industry so important to the economy of Michigan, the site of the ninth debate of the primary season. The son of the state's former governor said he cared about the auto industry unlike any other candidate on stage.
"We would have had a private-sector bailout -- private-sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding [it] ... as opposed to what we had with the government playing its heavy hand," he said.
John Harwood of CNBC, the media sponsor, followed up by offering Romney an opportunity to persuade Republican voters that he's guided by more than just the fact that he's "running for office."
"I think people understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy," Romney responded.
As proof, he cited the fact that he's been "married to the same woman for 25" years -- before correcting himself to say it's been 42.
"I've been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years, and I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games."
"I think it's outrageous the Obama campaign continues to push this idea when you have in the Obama administration the most political presidency we've seen in modern history," he said.
Romney's charge that it was the Obama campaign alone questioning his record ignores the fact that many conservatives remain skeptical that he's the conservative president the party wants.
Earlier in the economic-focused debate, the discussion centered on whether the United States ought to respond to the worsening European debt crisis. Only hours earlier, the Dow Jones recorded another triple-digit decline amid new fears about Italy's solvency.
The candidates largely advocated a hands-off approach. Herman Cain said that "there's not a lot that the United States can directly do for Italy right now."
"There's going to be an effort to try and draw us in," Romney said. "Europe is able to help Europe. We have to focus on getting our own economy in order."
Jon Huntsman said the situation in Europe was a preview of what America will face if its own fiscal course is not corrected.
"If we don't get serious about cutting our spending, you're going to find America in the same position that Italy is in," the former Utah governor said.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul said to bail out Europe would "just prolong the agony."