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Republican candidates on the issues

Here's where the 2012 Republican presidential candidates stand on a selection of issues.

They are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

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GINGRICH:

Abortion: Platform calls for conservative judges and no subsidies for abortion but not for constitutional abortion ban.

Debt: As House speaker in mid-1990s, engineered passage of a seven-year balanced-budget plan. It was vetoed by President Bill Clinton but helped form a bipartisan balanced budget two years later. Supports constitutional balanced budget amendment. Said that without a balanced budget, the U.S. had no choice but to raise its debt limit in the deal that avoided a default.

Economy: Repeal the 2010 financial industry and consumer protection regulations that followed the Wall Street meltdown, and repeal the 2002 regulations enacted in response to the Enron and other corporate and accounting scandals. Restrict the Fed's power to set interest rates artificially low. Make work training a condition of unemployment insurance and have states run it.

Education: "Dramatically shrink the federal Department of Education, get rid of virtually all of its regulations." But supported Obama administration's $4 billion Race to the Top grant competition for states, which encourages compliance with national education standards, because it also promotes charter schools.

Energy: Let oil and natural gas industries drill offshore reserves now blocked from development, end restrictions on Western oil shale development. In Alaska alone, "We could liberate an area the size of Texas for minerals and other development."

Environment: Convert EPA into an "environmental solutions agency" devoted to scientific research and "more energy, more jobs and a better environment simultaneously." Supported tougher environmental regulation early in congressional career.

Gay Marriage: If the Defense of Marriage Act fails, "you have no choice except a constitutional amendment" to ban gay marriage. Under the act, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage and no state is forced to recognize a same-sex marriage validated by another state.

Health Care: Repeal Obama's health care law if Republicans win congressional majorities. Prohibit insurers from cancelling or charging discriminatory rate increases to those who become sick while insured, an element of Obama's law. Offer the choice of a "generous" tax credit to help people buy health insurance or the ability to deduct part of the cost from taxes, another feature similar to the existing law. Limit medical lawsuits to restrain health care costs and let people in one state buy policies in another. "Block-grant Medicaid and send it back to the states." Previously supported proposals that people be required to carry health insurance.

Immigration: In contrast to most rivals, supports giving legal status to illegal immigrants who have sunk roots in the U.S. and lived otherwise lawfully. "If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out." Supports path to citizenship for illegal immigrants' children who perform U.S. military service. Make English the official language. Divert more Homeland Security assets to fighting illegal immigration at Mexican border.

Social Security: Give younger workers the option of diverting Social Security taxes to private retirement accounts.

Taxes: Cut corporate tax to 12.5 percent from maximum 35 percent, eliminate capital gains and estate taxes, let companies write off all new equipment in one year. For personal taxes, let people choose whether to file under the current system or pay a 15 percent tax, preserving the mortgage interest and charitable deductions. Supported extending payroll tax cut.

Terrorism: Supports extending and strengthening investigative powers of Patriot Act. Supports continued use of Guantanamo Bay detention for suspected terrorists. Supported creation of Homeland Security apparatus, because "we need some capacity to respond to massive events." In 2009, said of waterboarding: "It's not something we should do."

War: Initially criticized Obama for not intervening in Libya, then did an about-face after the president had sent in U.S. war planes to support the rebels fighting the government. "I would not have used American and European forces." No cuts in defense spending except waste. Supported Iraq war and opposed early timetables for withdrawal.

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PAUL:

Abortion: Says federal government should have no authority either to legalize or ban abortion. Yet signed pledge to advance only anti-abortion appointees for relevant administration jobs, cut off federal dollars for clinics that perform or finance abortions, and support a ban on abortions after the fetus reaches a certain stage in development.

Debt: Would eviscerate federal government, slashing nearly half its spending, shut five Cabinet-level agencies, end spending on existing conflicts and on foreign aid.

Economy: Return to the gold standard, eliminate the Federal Reserve, let gold and silver be used as legal tender, eliminate most federal regulations.

Education: Abolish the Education Department and end the federal role in education.

Energy: Remove restrictions on drilling, coal and nuclear power, eliminate gasoline tax, provide tax credits for alternative fuel technology.

Environment: In 2008, said "human activity probably does play a role" in global warming and part of the solution should be to stop subsidizing the oil industry and let prices rise until the free market turns to alternate energy sources. Now calls the science on manmade global warming a "hoax." Says emission standards should be set by states or regions, not Washington.

Gay Marriage: Says decisions on legalizing or prohibiting should be left to states. Supports federal law allowing one state to refuse to recognize the same-sex marriages of another state.

Health Care: Opposes compulsory insurance and all government subsidies for health coverage. Favors letting people deduct full cost of their health coverage and care from taxes. Says doctors should then feel an obligation to treat the needy for free.

Immigration: Do "whatever it takes" to secure the border, end the right to citizenship of U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, no social services for illegal immigrants, aggressive deportation of those who overstay a visa or otherwise break U.S. law.

Social Security: Says younger workers should be able to opt out of Social Security taxes and retirement benefits. "My plan explicitly protects the elderly and the sick in the transition."

Taxes: Eliminate the federal income tax and the IRS. Meantime would vote for a national sales tax, supports certain excise taxes and certain tariffs. Favors massive spending cuts to defund close to half the government and eliminate the need to replace the income tax at all. Supported payroll tax cut.

Terrorism: Opposes the surveillance and search powers of the Patriot Act. Says terrorists would not be motivated to attack America if the U.S. ended its military presence abroad. "The Patriot Act is unpatriotic because it undermines our liberty." Says: "Waterboarding is torture. And it's illegal under international law and under our law. It's also immoral. And it's also very impractical. There's no evidence that you really get reliable evidence."

War: Bring all or nearly all troops home, from Afghanistan and other foreign posts, "as quick as the ships could get there." Opposed U.S. intervention in Libya. "We've been fighting wars since World War II, technically in an unconstitutional fashion." Cut Pentagon budget.

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ROMNEY:

Abortion: Opposes abortion rights. Previously supported them. Says state law should guide abortion rights, and Roe v. Wade should be reversed by a future Supreme Court. But says Roe vs. Wade is law of the land until that happens and should not be challenged by federal legislation seeking to overturn abortion rights affirmed by that court decision. Would not sign pledge to advance only anti-abortion appointees for relevant administration jobs, cut off federal dollars for clinics that perform or finance abortions, and support a ban on abortions after the fetus reaches a certain stage in development. "So I would live within the law, within the Constitution as I understand it, without creating a constitutional crisis. But I do believe Roe v. Wade should be reversed to allow states to make that decision."

Debt: Defended 2008 bailout of financial institutions as a necessary step to avoid the system's collapse, criticized the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler and said any such aid should not single out specific companies. Cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, down from today's recession-swollen 25 percent. Stayed silent on debt-ceiling deal during its negotiation, only announcing his opposition to the final agreement shortly before lawmakers cast their votes. Instead, endorsed GOP "cut, cap and balance" bill that had no chance of enactment. Favors constitutional balanced budget amendment. Proposes 10 percent cut in federal workforce, elimination of $1.6 billion in Amtrak subsidies and cuts of $600 million in support for the public arts and broadcasting.

Economy: Lower taxes, less regulation, balanced budget, more trade deals to spur growth. Replace jobless benefits with unemployment savings accounts. Proposes repeal of the (Dodd-Frank) law toughening financial-industry regulations after the meltdown in that sector. Proposes changing, but not repealing, the (Sarbanes-Oxley) law tightening accounting regulations in response to corporate scandals, to ease the accountability burden on smaller businesses. "We don't want to tell the world that Republicans are against all regulation. No, regulation is necessary to make a free market work. But it has to be updated and modern."

Education: Supported the federal accountability standards of No Child Left Behind law. In 2007, said he was wrong earlier in his career when he wanted the Education Department shut because he came to see the value of the federal government in "holding down the interests of the teachers' unions" and putting kids and parents first.

Energy: Accelerate drilling permits in areas where exploration has already been approved for developers with good safety records. Says cap and trade would "rocket energy prices." Supports drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves, Western lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Alaska; and supports exploitation of shale oil deposits. Reduce obstacles to coal, natural gas and nuclear energy development. Says green power has yet to become viable.

Environment: Spending a fortune to cut the emissions linked to global warming "is not the right course for us." Has acknowledged the scientific consensus that humans contribute to global warming: "I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that." But now says: "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet." Proposes to remove carbon dioxide from list of pollutants controlled by Clean Air Act, and amend clean water and air laws to ensure the cost of complying with regulations is balanced against environmental benefit.

Gay Marriage: Favors constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, says policy should be set federally, not by states. "Marriage is not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state."

Health Care: Promises to work for the repeal of the federal health care law modeled largely after his universal health care achievement in Massachusetts because he says states, not Washington, should drive policy on the uninsured. Proposes to guarantee that people who are "continuously covered" for a certain period be protected against losing insurance if they get sick, leave their job and need another policy. Would expand individual tax-advantaged medical savings accounts and let the savings be used for insurance premiums as well as personal medical costs. Would let insurance be sold across state lines to expand options, and restrict malpractice awards to restrain health care costs. Introduce "generous" but undetermined subsidies to help future retirees buy private insurance instead of going on traditional Medicare. No federal requirement for people to have health insurance. His Massachusetts plan requires people to have coverage, penalizes those who don't, and penalizes businesses of a certain size if they do not provide coverage to workers. His state has highest percentage of insured in nation. On Medicaid, proposes to convert program to a federal block grant administered by states.

Immigration: Favors U.S.-Mexico border fence, opposes education benefits to illegal immigrants. Would veto legislation that seeks to award legal status to some young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the armed forces. Proposes more visas for holders of advanced degrees in math, science and engineering who have U.S. job offers, and would award permanent residency to foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools with a degree in those fields.

Social Security: Protect the status quo for people 55 and over but, for the next generations of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients.

Taxes: No one with adjusted gross income under $200,000 should be taxed on interest, dividends or capital gains. Cut corporate tax rate to 25 percent from a high of 35 percent. Opposes proposals to replace current tax system with national sales tax because he says it raises taxes on middle class while lowering them for rich and poor. Make Bush-era tax cuts, including for the wealthy, permanent. Eliminate estate tax. Dodged on extending cut in payroll tax, saying he doesn't like "temporary little Band-Aids" but also he's not for raising taxes "anywhere."

Terrorism: No constitutional rights for foreign terrorism suspects. In 2007, refused to rule out use of waterboarding to interrogate terrorist suspects. In 2011, his campaign said he does not consider waterboarding to be torture.

War: Has not specified the troop numbers behind his pledge to ensure the "force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully" in Afghanistan. "This is not time for America to cut and run." Said Obama was wrong to begin reducing troop levels as soon as he did. Would increase strength of armed forces, including number of troops and warships.

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SANTORUM:

Abortion: Favors constitutional abortion ban and opposes abortion even in cases of rape because "I would absolutely stand and say that one violence is enough." Previously supported right to abortion in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

Debt: Freeze social and military spending for five years to cut $5 trillion from federal budgets. Opposed the financial-industry bailout and stimulus programs of the Bush and Obama administrations. Supports constitutional balanced budget amendment holding federal spending at no more than 18 percent of GDP, down from the current recession-swollen 25 percent.

Economy: Spur jobs by eliminating corporate taxes for manufacturers, drill for more oil and gas, and slash regulations. Repeal every Obama-era regulation that costs business more than $100 million a year. "You may have to replace a few, but let's repeal them all because they are all antagonistic to businesses, particularly in the manufacturing sector."

Education: Voted for sweeping No Child Left Behind education overhaul, now says he regrets doing so. Wants "significantly" smaller Education Department but not its elimination. Criticized early childhood education programs as an attempt by government to "indoctrinate your children."

Energy: Favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and scaling back "oppressive regulation" hindering drilling elsewhere. Eliminate energy subsidies in four years.

Environment: The science establishing human activity as a likely contributor to global warming is "patently absurd" and "junk science."

Gay Marriage: Supports constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, not leaving decision to states. "We can't have 50 marriage laws." ''Abraham Lincoln said the states do not have the right to do wrong. I respect the 10th Amendment, but we are a nation that has values. We are a nation that was built on a moral enterprise, and states don't have the right to tramp over those because of the 10th Amendment."

Health Care: Would seek to starve Obama's health care law of money needed to implement it, and to repeal it. Was a leading supporter of Bush administration's prescription drug program for the elderly, which he now calls a mistake.

Immigration: Supports border fence, opposes letting children of illegal immigrants qualify for cheaper in-state tuition and says federal government should not require states to offer any social services to illegal immigrants. Favors making English the official language.

Social Security: Proposes immediate steps to lower benefits for wealthier retirees, raise the age to qualify for full benefits and restrict inflation increases in benefits. "We need to change benefits for everybody now." ''We should absolutely do something about people who don't need Social Security." Supports option of private retirement accounts instead of Social Security taxes and benefits for younger workers.

Taxes: Triple the personal exemption for dependent children, reduce the number of tax brackets to two — 10 percent and 28 percent, exempt domestic manufacturers from the corporate tax and halve the top rate for other business. "If you manufacture in America, you aren't going to pay any taxes." Opposes any national sales tax.

Terrorism: Defends creation of Homeland Security Department as an attempt to fix a "complete mess" in the domestic security apparatus. Voted to reauthorize Patriot Act. Says airport screeners should employ profiling; "Muslims would be someone you'd look at, absolutely." Supports continued use of Guantanamo Bay detention for suspected terrorists but says Americans accused of being enemy combatants should have the right to go to court to challenge indefinite detention. Says waterboarding has proved effective.

War: Says he would order that Iran's nuclear facilities be bombed unless they were opened for international arms inspectors. Proposes freezing defense spending for five years. Said in September 2011 that 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops should remain in Iraq. Says U.S. troops should withdraw from Afghanistan "a little slower" than Obama is planning. In May, accused Obama of "dithering" in Libya and creating a "morass" because he let the international community take the lead. Opposes closure of U.S. bases abroad.

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Associated Press writers Brian Bakst and Chris Tomlinson contributed to this report.

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