Newt Gingrich wants impoverished school children to go to work, replacing a single janitor with 30 kids. Rick Perry thinks Turkey is ruled by Islamic terrorists. Ron Paul insists we should have respected Pakistan’s sovereignty instead of raiding Osama bin Laden’s compound. Rick Santorum believes marriage before conception is a key to ending poverty.

And all of them are chasing Mitt Romney, who was on the defensive repeatedly last night during the 16th debate of the Republican primary season in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, just a few days before the state’s pivotal primary vote on January 21.

The debate revealed a field of candidates desperate to slow Romney’s momentum before he can secure the GOP nomination for the 2012 presidential race.

At times, Romney appeared to feel the heat.

He was grilled on his record as co-founder of Boston venture firm Bain Capital, with Gingrich pointing to a pattern of companies left with enormous debt. Romney said he is proud of his record, admitting that some of the businesses he invested in were not successful and lost jobs, but arguing that others ended up generating about 120,000 jobs.

Santorum cornered Romney on voting rights for ex-convicts, which Romney said he’s against, asking why his state of Massachusetts allowed felons to vote while on probation and parole, a relatively liberal position.

"If you felt so passionately about this that you are now going to have somebody go out and criticize me, then why didn't you go out and try to change that while you were governor?" asked Santorum.

Perry asked to see Romney’s tax records, noting that he had already released his and expected Gingrich to so the same soon. After Romney brushed off the question, moderators revisited, and he replied, "Time will tell, but I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I'll keep that open."

Gingrich thrived among social conservatives.

When the spotlight turned to the rest of the field, Gingrich took confident strides. Moderators challenged the former House speaker on previous statements about impoverished children lacking good work ethic. Gingrich stood by his claim, suggesting poor children should find work as janitors to earn money, even claiming 30 kids could work in a school for the price of one janitor, who he said are paid “an absurd amount of money because of the union.”

"I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job,” said Gingrich, drawing cheers from the audience.

Paul was tackled on Osama bin Laden raid

The golden rule policy Paul defends came back to bite him last night when he was pressed on the Osama bin Laden raid in Pakistan. Paul insists on respecting state sovereignty and compared the raid to a hypothetical situation involving a Chinese dissident on U.S. soil.

It set the stage for Gingrich, who drew applause defending the raid.

"Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America's enemies," Gingrich said. "Kill them."

Perry lashed out, drawing international criticism.

In one of the more controversial statements of the debate, the Texas governor argued it’s time to cut foreign aid to Turkey, claiming the country “is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists.”

A spokesman for Turkey's foreign ministry responded today, accusing Perry of making "baseless and improper claims,” and saying presidential candidates should "be more informed about the world and be more careful their statements."

Perry also attacked the White House, saying that “South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration,” which he said seeks to upend state rights by challenging voter-identification and immigration laws.

Finally, he criticized the administration’s response to reports of Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers, calling it an “overreaction.”

Santorum quietly emphasized family values

In what was otherwise a quiet debate for Santorum, he did make a pointed remark about eliminating poverty.

"There are three things that work to get out of poverty: work, graduate from high school, and get married before you have children,” he said.

The candidates will debate again on Thursday night in Charleston.