Former Massachusetts governor and GOP front-runner Mitt Romney repeatedly ignored his rivals and attacked President Obama in a debate in Manchester, New Hampshire on Saturday night, sounding like a man confident he will emerge as the Republican nominee.

Despite data on Friday that showed the unemployment rate dropping to its lowest rate since February 2009, Romney said the president has done little to improve the economy.

“His policies have made the recession deeper and his policies have made the recovery more tepid,” Romney said of Obama. He added, “He’s made it harder for small entrepreneurs and big businesses.”

Many independent analysts have suggested the stimulus bill passed three years ago helped ensure the recession was not longer and more severe.

In the first debate by the Republicans since Romney won the Iowa caucus, the other
GOP contenders constantly attacked one another, using more personal tones than in earlier debates. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) blasted former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum as a “big spender” and suggested former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) had ducked military service in Vietnam. Texas Gov. Rick Perry accused Paul of “hypocrisy” for accepting money for earmarks for his congressional district.

Paul, under fire for newsletters under his name in the 1980’s that included controversial comments on race, said Martin Luther King Jr. is “one of my heroes” and spoke out against what he called “true racism” in the American judicial system.

“I’m the only one up here and the only one in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country is in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws,” Paul said. “Look at the percentages. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites.”

He added, “And yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re — they’re prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately. They get — they get the death penalty way disproportionately. How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get, you know, execution?”

Despite Paul’s contention that he is the “only one,” many Republicans and Democrats have made similar arguments about sentencing.

The candidates broke little ground on major issues ahead of Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, where polls show Romney well ahead of his rivals. They all reiterated their opposition to gay marriage, and Obama’s polices on nearly every issue.