Political fists fly in GOP debate
Arizona Republic
November 29, 2007

Author: Dan Nowicki, The Arizona Republic

Estimated printed pages: 5
The Republican presidential race erupted into rancor Wednesday as the much-heralded YouTube debate immediately turned into a verbal brawl over immigration reform and sanctuary cities.
The main combatants were two leading GOP contenders, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. They took shots at each other on the night's first question, with Giuliani fighting off Romney's characterization of New York City when he was mayor as a "sanctuary" for illegal immigrants. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, had to explain why undocumented migrants tended his yard, a situation that Giuliani called Romney's "sanctuary mansion."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also sparred with Romney over policies that would help children of illegal immigrants pursue college scholarships. Huckabee is locked in an increasingly fierce battle with Romney in Iowa.

Arizona Sen. John McCain even got into a heated face-off with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, over Paul's opposition to the Iraq war and overseas military actions. Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., also took shots at rivals on immigration reform, taxes and abortion.

It was by far the most heated and personal GOP debate yet, and it reflected a realization that time is running out. The Iowa caucuses that formally launch the presidential-nomination process are fast approaching on Jan. 3.

The debate also opened up a window on Huckabee, who may be breaking into the top tier of candidates. He seemed to confirm that ascent with a mix of humor and personal touches.

The Republicans were in Florida for the debate, but they answered questions delivered from the unpredictable Internet world of YouTube.com, the video-sharing Web site that is helping redefine political communication.

Moderator Anderson Cooper of co-sponsor CNN noted that the opening video clip demonstrated that this is "definitely a new kind of debate." It showed a man from Washington strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a song about the contenders.

Political fisticuffs

Despite the novelties, it was a night of old-fashioned political fisticuffs.

The punches flew after Romney criticized Giuliani's contention that New York City reported "thousands and thousands and thousands of names of illegal immigrants who committed crimes" to immigration authorities.

"How about the fact that the people who are here illegally have violated the law?" Romney said. "They didn't report everybody they found that was here illegally."

Giuliani responded by hammering Romney over his household record. The Boston Globe in 2006 reported on undocumented workers employed by Romney's lawn-maintenance company. Giuliani said Romney lived in a "sanctuary mansion" and did "nothing" about sanctuary cities in Massachusetts.

Romney shot back that Giuliani's suggestion that homeowners should demand the papers of any worker "with a funny accent" is "really kind of offensive" and "not American."

Giuliani said Romney's "holier-than-thou attitude" on immigration made his yard workers fair game.

"It just so happens you have a special illegal-immigration problem that nobody else up here has," Giuliani said. "You were employing illegal immigrants. That is a pretty serious thing."

The vitriol between Giuliani and Romney, which persisted even after Cooper tried to move on, made it easier for McCain to stake out higher ground.

McCain acknowledged that his push for comprehensive immigration reform "failed" but noted that undocumented immigrants "need some protection under the law" and "need some of our love and compassion."

"You know, this whole debate saddens me a little a bit because we do have a serious situation in America," McCain said. "We need to sit down and recognize these are God's children, as well."

Immigration topic hot

For McCain, immigration is a delicate subject.

His collaboration on a bipartisan immigration bill nearly upended his presidential campaign this summer. Many conservative GOP activists strongly oppose "amnesty," or what they perceive as benefits for illegal immigrants. McCain's proposal included a pathway to citizenship and a temporary-worker program. He since has tempered his position, promising to secure the border first.

The crowd groaned a bit when McCain said, "We never proposed amnesty."

Romney also went after Huckabee over Arkansas legislation that would have given the children of illegal immigrants who have spent their lives in U.S. schools access to scholarships. "(Huckabee) basically said that he fought for giving scholarships to illegal aliens," Romney said.

Huckabee responded, "In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We're a better country than that."

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., was loving the fireworks. His long-shot bid for the nomination is based largely on his vehement opposition to illegal immigration. "So far, it's been wonderful, because all I've heard is people trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo," he said.

McCain slams Paul

The sparring over issues continued throughout the two-hour debate.

McCain slammed Paul over his belief in non-intervention abroad. Paul is the only GOP candidate who steadfastly opposes the Iraq war. McCain cited his Thanksgiving week trip to Iraq and said the troops want Paul to "let us win."

"I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II," McCain said. "We allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement." His remarks got a mix of boos and cheers from the crowd.

Paul said his campaign gets the most donations from military personnel. He said he is not an isolationist because he supports free trade and travel.

"He doesn't even understand the difference between non-intervention and isolationism," Paul said of McCain.

McCain also jousted with Romney over whether to ban "waterboarding," or simulated drowning, in interrogations of terror suspects. McCain is opposed.

Most of the YouTube questions were typical of other debates, including topics on religion, gay rights, immigration and gun control. The one questioner from Arizona, Eric Berntson of Phoenix, asked the candidates to tell about their gun collections.

"I know how to use guns," said McCain, who carried a .45 as a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. "I don't own one now."


Questions from Arizona

An unknown number of Arizonans submitted YouTube video questions for the GOP debate in Florida on Wednesday night. A sampling of those submitted (and still posted on YouTube):

* Cindee, of Phoenix: She used two Mr. Potato Heads, one with a top hat and wad of bills, and the other with a hard hat and missing tooth, to ask, "If you're elected president, what will you do to help lower-income people?"

* Andrew, of Scottsdale: He opened with a clip of a flaming video-game death and asked, "How can you assure me that I will able to purchase any video game without government restriction?"

* Ken, of Fountain Hills: "Dr. (Ron) Paul, why does the mainstream media treat you as a persona non grata?"

* Nicholas, of Phoenix: "Knowing what we know now ... was invading Iraq in 2003 the right thing to do?"

* Two young women, unidentified, from Arizona: "What is a border fence going to do to keep people from crossing illegally?"