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Republicans respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The race for the next U.S. president was evident on Tuesday night as plenty of potential Republican contenders criticizing President Barack Obama’s tax proposals, while Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, defended the President’s State of the Union address.

Mitt Romney took to Facebook to argue that Obama was dismissing the message that voters sent to Washington when they voted for a Republican majority in November.

“He ignores the fact that the country has elected a Congress that favors smaller government and lower taxes,” the 2012 Republican presidential nominee wrote. “His tax proposal is a maze of new taxes and complexities.”

In his speech, Obama called for closing loopholes in the tax code that he says leads “to inequality by allowing the top 1% to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.”

The President is proposing a total of $235 billion in tax credits that are aimed to help the middle class.

To pay for it, Obama wants tax investment income — capital gains and dividends — at a higher rate, which could help bring in $320 billion.

As expected, Republicans widely panned the idea. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledged that some have benefited in the economic recovery but “far too many people have been left behind.”

“It’s unfortunate President Obama wants to use the tax code to divide us — instead of proposing reforms to create economic opportunity for every American,” he said on Facebook. “We can do better.”

Sen. Rand Paul, in his own taped response, said “the President is redistributing the pie, but not growing it.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker blasted what he called Obama’s “top-down, government-knows-best philosophy.”

“Our American revival is not going to be led by a lame-duck president who would rather pick fights with Congress,” he said in a statement. “It will be led by reformers who know how to get things done.”

Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement that Obama’s speech “doubles down on outdated proposals to tax and spend more.”

He also ripped into the President over his recent Cuba policy, saying it rewards “repressive, anti-American regimes.”

Joining “Hambycast” by phone, Rubio later tweaked Obama’s pitch to make community college free.

“The single greatest impediment to community colleges today are not costs…it’s the fact that at the end of that community college tunnel is that graduates don’t see jobs,” he told CNN’s Peter Hamby.

Separately, Rubio told CNN’s Deirdre Walsh that he felt Republicans could work with Obama on some things, like increasing the child tax credit. “I do think we have to focus on child care costs in America,” he said. “They are very high for working families.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, in a statement criticizing Obama’s speech, said, “America saw a powerful demonstration that it is time to move on beyond President Barack Obama.”

The Texas Republican posted a taped response earlier in the night on his YouTube page, but it was taken down. Reporters noted that Cruz appeared to mess up in the video and asked to start over.

My friend, Joni

Many of the Republicans were quick to sing the praises of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who gave the Republican response, showing that it’s never a bad move to praise the new senator from the state that holds the nation’s first nominating contest.

Bush said his “friend Joni offered a great contrast,” while Paul tweeted that his “friend” did a “great job tonight.” Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who’s spending five days in Iowa next week, also tweeted a shout-out: “Good job @joniernst! Well delivered which drew a clear contrast.”

Democrats jump to Obama’s defense

Clinton, for her part, backed the President on Twitter, saying Obama pointed a way “to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up and deliver for the middle class.” The former secretary of state is considered the Democratic frontrunner if she runs for president.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in a statement that Obama got it “right” and “laid out ways we can create more opportunities for working families.”

Outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley praised Obama’s policies, saying in a statement, “The worst thing we could do is let recent economic progress be undercut by Republican efforts to undo critically important financial reforms.”

Some of the potential Republican contenders also criticized Obama’s speech in real time. Paul, for example, jabbed Obama’s push for free community college with multiple tweets.

Paul’s Facebook account also set up a fact-check game where players could guess whether statements in Obama’s previous addresses were “true” or “not so fast…”

Santorum said a line that he agreed with was the idea that “we want people to not only share in America’s success but contribute to its success.”

On the Democratic side, former Sen. Jim Webb, who’s announced a presidential exploratory committee, live-tweeted his thoughts during the speech.

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