Sunday, August 05, 2007
By Marie Horrigan, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY Published: August 5, 2007
The debate — in the state that is scheduled next January to hold the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses — was timed in part as a prelude to next Saturday’s Republican presidential straw poll in Ames. In a break with tradition, though, several of the GOP hopefuls have chosen not to participate in that straw poll.
Stephanopoulos worked to balance time between the nine candidates, despite the fact that three — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain — are recognized as forming a top tier in the current poll standings. The six other participants were Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback; Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, Ron Paul of Texas and Tom Tancredo of Colorado; former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson; and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, though regarded as a potentially serious contender for the Republican nomination, has not yet officially announced that he is running and was not invited to the debate.
The following is a roundup of some of the debate’s key highlights:
• Most Discussed Issue: Moderator Stephanopoulos said the war in Iraq was the top issue when Iowa voters were polled about what they would want to ask the presidential contenders, and a question about an exit strategy for the war provided for a lively exchange among the GOP candidates.
Paul, a libertarian conservative who stands alone in the field as an outspoken opponent of the war, drew applause when he called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. “Just come home,” he said.
Hunter — a former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who is seeking a niche as the most hawkish candidate for the GOP nomination — took an opposite view, said U.S. troops needed to stay in Iraq and turning his criticism on Democrats whom he described as competing to see “who could stampede for the exit the quickest.”
Huckabee said it was possible to find middle ground on the issue, saying that the United States needed to end its dependence on foreign oil and to build up the nation’s strength to become “free people,” which drew major applause.
McCain disputed charges by many Democrats and some Republicans that little progress toward a political solution is being made in Iraq. “Of course they are making progress and we are winning on the ground,” he said. He declared that combating Islamic extremism was the major national security of the day, and touted his military and legislative background in declaring himself the most qualified candidate to deal with this issue.
Giuliani said that Democrats are so concerned about “political correctness” that none of their candidates has used the phrase “Islamic terrorism” in any of their presidential debates; Giuliani said Iraq is a battle in the “overall war against us” that America needs to win.
Romney also said it is critical to win the conflict, and drew applause when he criticized Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s strongly stated warning to Pakistan, issued last week, that he would be willing to deploy the U.S. military unilaterally to go after al Qaeda and other anti-American forces hiding in remote areas of that nation if Pakistani leaders fail to use their own military to do so.
• Most Combative Moment: The debate opened with an argument over Romney’s stance on abortion. Stephanopoulos asked Brownback, a staunchly anti-abortion candidate, whether he stood behind an ad produced by his campaign that seeks to debunk Romney’s “pro-life” credentials. Brownback called the ad “truthful,” but Romney said that “virtually nothing in that ad is true.”
Referring to his advocacy during a 1994 Senate campaign of a position that upheld abortion rights — something he described later in the debate as his biggest mistake — Romney said he “was pro-choice,” but switched to a “pro-life” position while serving a four-year term as governor of Massachusetts that ended in January. Sharpening his tone, Romney added, “I get tired of people who are holier than thou, because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have.”
• Most defensive moment: Tancredo, who has made his opposition to illegal immigration the signal issue of his longshot presidential campaign, went after Stephanopoulos early in the debate, alleging the moderator was exercising favoritism among the candidates. “There are nine of us up here,” he told Stephanopoulos right before he was called on to discuss his views on the war in Iraq.
Tancredo criticized the Bush administration’s planning for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but continued to take a very hard line on Islamic extremism, defending a comment he made last week in which he advocated threatening to bomb Islamic holy sites in Mecca if terrorists were to use nuclear weapons against the United States. When Stephanopoulos asked about the State Department’s rebuke of that statement, Tancredo — echoing the anti-government sentiments among some conservatives — said he felt vindicated by the fact that the State Department disagreed with him.
But Tommy Thompson, taking the State Department’s line, described Tancredo’s threat as counterproductive, saying an attack on religious holy sites would unite 1 billion Muslims around the world against the United States.
• Best Line: “To have a description of my mistakes in 30 minutes? George, your father is a priest. I’m going to explain it to your father, not to you, OK?” — Giuliani, who is married to his third wife, told Stephanopoulos when asked to provide a 30-second answer outlining a defining mistake in his life. The moderator’s father is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church.
• Second Best Line: “In one week, he went from saying he was going to sit down for tea with our enemies but that he was going to bomb our allies. He’s gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove.” — Romney on Obama’s recent foreign policy statements. Prior to his remarks on Pakistan, Obama said in a Democratic debate that he would not rule out meeting with leaders of so-called rogue nations such as Iran and Cuba.
• Top Point of Agreement: All nine of the candidates agreed they would oppose legislation that would expand coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which passed the House and Senate (with the advocacy of popular Iowa Republican Sen Charles E. Grassley) this week but has drawn a veto threat from President Bush over its cost. Several candidates said the measure would increase government involvement in health care financing and stated their preferences for free-market approaches. Later in the debate, Thompson predicted that there would be media headlines portraying the Republican candidates as opposing improved health care for children and contended that is not true.
© 2006 Congressional Quarterly