presidential rivals Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney scornfully
debated immigration in a provocative, no-holds-barred
CNN/YouTube debate held in St. Petersburg, Fla., just
over a month before the first votes are cast.
front-runner in national polls, accused Romney Wednesday of
employing illegal immigrants at his home and running a
''sanctuary mansion.'' The testy personal exchange
came after Romney said Giuliani had retained New
York's status as a sanctuary city while he was mayor.
Romney said it
would ''not be American'' to check the papers of workers
employed by a contractor simply because they have a ''funny
accent.'' He had landscapers at his Belmont, Mass.,
home who turned out to be in the country illegally.
back, calling Romney's attitude ''holier than thou.''
criticizes people when he usually has the far worse
record,'' Giuliani said.
however, booed Giuliani as he tried to persist in his
criticism of Romney.
came at the start of an innovative CNN/YouTube debate
that forced the candidates to confront immigration
immediately, signaling the volatility of the issue
among Republican voters. The eight Republican
candidates encountered a range of questions, including
abortion, gun control from a gun-wielding NRA member,
and farm subsidies from a man eating an ear of corn.
They were even
asked if they believed every word in the Bible by a man
holding the holy book, and a question on the powers of the
vice president from a gun-toting cartoon version of
No one was exempt
in the free-for-all as the candidates squabbled over
interrogation techniques, the Iraq war, crime, and who
wields the most conservative record. The candidates
tried to position themselves to the right of each
other, knowing full well that conservatives hold sway in
selecting the GOP nominee.
At the outset,
immigration dominated the questions submitted online and
swept in the remainder of the Republican field.
took the opportunity to distinguish himself from both
Romney and Giuliani, arguing that Romney had supported
President Bush's plan to provide a path to citizenship
for some immigrants in the United States illegally
now. He took Giuliani to task for attacking Romney's
employment of illegal immigrants.
''I think we've
all had people who we've hired who in retrospect was a
bad decision,'' he said, alluding to Bernard Kerik,
Giuliani's disgraced former police commissioner who is
under federal indictment on multiple charges.
Sen. John McCain,
for whom the immigration issue has proved particularly
vexing, defended his support for an unsuccessful overhaul of
immigration laws that included a temporary worker
program and a path to citizenship.
recognize these are God's children as well,'' McCain said.
''They need our love and compassion, and I want to ensure
that I will enforce the borders first. But we won't
who has also come under GOP criticism for some of his
immigration policies while governor of Arkansas, defended
benefits he supported for children of illegal
immigrants, including allowing children to be eligible
to apply for college scholarships.
''Are we going to
say kids who are here illegally are going to get a
special deal?'' Romney asked.
objected, saying the benefit was based on merit. ''We are a
better country than to punish children for what their
parents did,'' he said.
The most fierce
exchanges were among the candidates with the most at
stake with only five weeks left before the first voting in
the presidential contest begins. Giuliani leads in
national polls but trails Romney in early-voting Iowa
and New Hampshire. Romney faces challenges from
Huckabee in Iowa and from Giuliani and McCain in New
Thompson, in what
amounted to one of the first video attacks of the
campaign, questioned the conservative credentials of two of
his rivals in a YouTube clip. The video challenged
Romney on abortion and Huckabee on taxes.
''I wanted to
give my buddies here a little extra airtime,'' Thompson
said to laughter as he defended the video.
Romney and Huckabee are his biggest obstacles toward
establishing himself as the candidate of conservatives.
''I was wrong, I
was effectively pro-choice,'' said Romney, who has said
he changed his stance in 2004 during debates on stem cell
research. ''On abortion, I was wrong.''
''If people are
looking for somebody in this country who has never made a
mistake ... then they ought to find somebody else,'' he
front-runner, Giuliani faced questions about gun control,
abortion, and whether New York taxpayers footed the bill for
security he received while the married mayor visited
his then-girlfriend, Judith Nathan, now his wife.
Giuliani said he
had 24-hour protection as mayor because of threats
against him and said all costs incurred were proper.
''I had nothing
to do with the handling of their records,'' he said of
how his security detail reported the expenses. ''And they
were handled, as far as I know, perfectly
McCain, who has
shown no love for Romney during the campaign, seized on
Romney's response to a question about the legality of
waterboarding as an interrogation technique. Romney
said that as a candidate he would not publicly discuss
what techniques he would rule out. That prompted McCain,
a former Vietnam POW, to assert that waterboarding is indeed
torture and should not be tolerated.
me tell you, if we're going to gain the high ground in
this world ... we're not going to torture people,'' McCain
said. ''How in the world someone could think that that
kind of thing could be inflicted on people who are in
our custody is absolutely beyond me.''
engaged Ron Paul, a Texas congressman whose libertarian
views and opposition to the war have attracted
thousands of donors, millions of dollars, and a
devoted online following.
McCain said Paul
is promoting isolationism in calling for the United
States to disengage from the war. ''We allowed [Adolf]
Hitler to come to power with that attitude of
isolation,'' he said.
saying McCain had misunderstood his support for
nonintervention with isolationism.
''I want to trade
with people, talk with people, travel,'' Paul replied.
''But I don't want to send troops overseas using force to
tell them how to live.'' Later he made clear he would
not run as an independent, despite demands from many
of his supporters.
Keith Kerr of Santa Rosa, Calif., a retired Army colonel
who served as a brigadier general in the reserves, asked the
candidates about their views on gays in the military
and revealed himself to be gay. Not mentioned was his
membership on a steering committee of gays and
lesbians for Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
McCain, and Rep. Duncan Hunter all said they supported
the current ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy.
The debate ended
as it began, with Romney and Giuliani in a deeply
personal dispute -- over the New York Yankees versus the
Boston Red Sox.
''When I was
mayor of New York City, the Yankees won four world
championships,'' Giuliani said. ''Since I've left being
mayor of New York City, the Yankees have won none.''
Romney, who was
off by one year -- 87 instead of 86 -- on the length of
the Red Sox World Series drought, replied, ''Like most
Americans, we love our sports teams and hate the
Yankees.'' (Liz Sidoti, AP)