GOP’s 2008 top tier bat­tles to show con­ser­va­tive cre­den­tials

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

Mitt Rom­ney pro­posed dou­bling the size of Guan­tanamo Bay’s de­ten­tion cen­ter, John McCain de­fended his team­work with Democrats in the Se­nate, and Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani an­grily de­manded a re­trac­tion from a fel­low pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who said the Septem­ber 11 bomb­ings were a re­sult of U.S. ac­tions in Iraq.

The three top-tier Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls sparred with each other and fended off at­tacks in the pri­mary sea­son’s sec­ond de­bate from seven lower-tier can­di­dates who charged the front-run­ners are not con­ser­va­tive enough on spend­ing, im­mi­gra­tion, tax cuts and abor­tion to lead the Repub­li­can Party.

“Con­ver­sions on guns, con­ver­sions on abor­tion, con­ver­sions on im­mi­gra­tion. You know, it’s be­gin­ning to truly sound like a Bap­tist tent re­vival meet­ing here,” said Rep. Tom Tan­credo, Colorado Repub­li­can and one of the chal­lengers try­ing to gain ground on Mr. Rom­ney, for­mer gov­er­nor of Mas­sachusetts; Mr. McCain, a sen­a­tor from Ari­zona; and Mr. Gi­u­liani, the for­mer mayor of New York.

Mr. Gi­u­liani again found him­self on the de­fen­sive about his lib­er­al­lean­ing views on abor­tion, gun­con­trol and ho­mo­sex­ual rights, but said Repub­li­can vot­ers should be mak­ing their judg­ments on other fac­tors — namely, who can beat Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton in the gen­eral elec­tion.

“This elec­tion in 2008 is go­ing to make a very big dif­fer­ence in whether we go in that di­rec­tion,” he said dur­ing the de­bate held at the Univer­sity of South Carolina. “Repub­li­cans should be united to make sure that what the lib­eral me­dia is talk­ing about — our in­evitable de­feat — doesn’t hap­pen.”

He said his fis­cal record as mayor, com­bined with his se­cu­rity cre­den­tials, make him the strong­est can­di­date. He ex­plained his pro-choice po­si­tion as a stance peo­ple can dis­agree with but said there should be agree­ment on all sides to “look for ways to re­duce abor­tions.”

While de­fend­ing sign­ing a gun­con­trol law as gov­er­nor, Mr. Rom­ney took the of­fen­sive on the war on ter­ror­ism and de­fended harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques to de­fend the coun­try.

Mr. Rom­ney said that in­stead of clos­ing the de­ten­tion cen­ter at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, as both Mr. McCain and Pres­i­dent Bush have pro­posed, “My view is we ought to dou­ble Guan­tanamo.”

He also chal­lenged Mr. McCain’s part­ner­ship with Democrats Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy on im­mi­gra­tion and Sen. Russ Fein­gold on cam­paign-fi­nance re­stric­tions, say­ing on im­mi­gra­tion in par­tic­u­lar that Mr. McCain wants to cre­ate a new path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal aliens.

Mr. McCain de­fended his ac­tions as the cost of bi­par­ti­san­ship on ma­jor is­sues.

“I don’t in­tend to block things. I in­tend to get re­sults, and I in­tend to work on the hard things, not the easy ones,” he said.

With the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate be­gin­ning in the Se­nate, Mr. McCain tied him­self to the cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions that likely will lead to a bill grant­ing cit­i­zen­ship rights to most il­le­gal aliens.

“What the Amer­i­can peo­ple ex­pect us to do is to sit down and work this is­sue out to­gether,” he said.

He also chal­lenged Mr. Rom­ney, who has re­versed po­si­tions on abor­tion and other is­sues.

“I have kept a con­sis­tent po­si­tion on right to life. And I haven’t changed my po­si­tion on even-num­bered years or have changed be­cause of the dif­fer­ent of­fices that I may be run­ning for.”

Mr. Gi­u­liani showed the most spunk of the night when he de­manded Rep. Ron Paul re­tract his state­ment that the United States was at­tacked be­cause it was in­volved in Iraq from the 1991 war.

“I don’t think I’ve heard that be­fore, and I’ve heard some pretty ab­surd ex­pla­na­tions for Septem­ber 11th,” the for­mer mayor said.

Mr. Paul, Texas Repub­li­can, stood firm, say­ing “blow­back” to U.S. ac­tions is real: “If we ig­nore that, we ig­nore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not in­cite ha­tred, then we have a prob­lem.”

The best line of the night went to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, who said Wash­ing­ton politi­cians are wast­ing money.

“We’ve had a Congress that spent money like John Ed­wards at a beauty shop,” he said, re­fer­ring to the cam­paign-fi­nance re­ports that showed Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mr. Ed­wards paid $400 for a hair­cut.

Mean­while, Mr. Tan­credo charged that some of the can­di­dates on the stage voted for the No Child Left Be­hind ed­u­ca­tion ex­pan­sion and for the $400 bil­lion Medi­care over­haul in 2003.

“How in the world can they come back here and say we’ve got to be care­ful of spend­ing?” he said.

For­mer Wis­con­sin Gov. Tommy Thompson seemed stumped when asked what three spe­cific pro­grams he would cut, while Mr. Paul em­braced the ques­tion, say­ing he would “start with the de­part­ments” — the Ed­u­ca­tion, En­ergy and Home­land Se­cu­rity de­part­ments.

Un­like the Demo­cratic can­di­dates, who are com­pet­ing with each other to ap­pear as the most op­posed to Mr. Bush and the war in Iraq, al­most all of the Repub­li­can con­tenders con­tin­ued to sup­port U.S. mil­i­tary ef­forts in Iraq.

But they found points of con­tention on who is best able to lead, with Rep. Dun­can Hunter, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, say­ing that as a for­mer sol­dier in Viet­nam and for­mer chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee with a son serv­ing in Iraq, he has the abil­ity to bring the coun­try to­gether be­hind the war ef­fort.

“I think the other guys ought to lay out their cre­den­tials to be com­man­der in chief,” he said.

Sen. Sam Brown­back of Kansas and for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. James S. Gil­more III also par­tic­i­pated in the de­bates.

Two Repub­li­cans who haven’t an­nounced can­di­da­cies still loomed large over the de­bate: for­mer Ten­nessee Sen. Fred Thompson, whom many con­ser­va­tives are beg­ging to run for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, and cur­rent New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported is pre­pared to spend $1 bil­lion on a third­party cam­paign.

The 90-minute de­bate was broad­cast by Fox News.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Not just wear­ing his heart on his sleeve: Christo­pher Car­pen­ter of Columbia, S.C. makes his feel­ings on the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag known prior to the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate May 15 in Columbia.

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