Republican Candidates Chip Away at Each Other in Second Debate

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - The second Republican presidential debate was packed with more fireworks, as candidates faced off and questioned the conservative credentials of their opponents.

One sharp round involved former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who questioned each other's conservative credentials.

In response to a question on immigration, Romney jabbed at McCain by bringing up an immigration reform bill and a campaign finance reform bill that McCain co-sponsored with Democratic senators, including the liberal Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

"I'm afraid McCain-Kennedy [immigration bill] will do the same thing for immigration that McCain-Feingold [campaign finance bill] did for money in politics," Romney said, knowing that conservatives consider McCain-Feingold an infringement of free speech.

However, McCain's counter-jab prompted applause:.

"I've been consistent about my position on campaign finance reform. Is there anyone who thinks there isn't enough money awash in politics? ... I have kept my position on the right to life. I haven't changed my position through the years based on the position I was running for."

Romney, formerly pro-abortion, pro-gun control and pro-"gay rights," has moved to the right on all three issues since running for president.

Another sharp exchange erupted when Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was asked if his opposition to an interventionist foreign policy should have changed after the 9/11 attacks.

"The reason they attacked us is because we were over there," Paul said. "We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years."

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose frontrunner status is largely tied to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, shot back later, "That's an extraordinary statement. I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11."

The crowd applauded, then Giuliani continued: "I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us he didn't mean that." Rep. Paul stood by his remakrs, however.

Giuliani's support for federal funding of abortion was one issue former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore mentioned when he referred to the top three GOP candidates as "Rudy McRomney."

Gilmore also criticized Romney for his support for mandatory health care legislation. And he criticized former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for raising taxes in his state. In response, Huckabee said 80 percent of voters approved a gas tax hike for major road construction projects.

Most candidates called for stronger fiscal responsibility, including Huckabee, who said, "Congress is spending money like John Edwards at a beauty shop," referring to the Democratic presidential candidate's $400 haircut. The line drew loud laughter.

Romney said he would cut wasteful spending and set goals for reducing the size of government. "Let's lay down benchmarks in Washington."

Giuliani spoke earlier in the debate about the foiled terrorist attack on Fort Dix in New Jersey last week. "They were inspired by al Qaeda. ... Thank God they were found out, but we need to remind ourselves there is an enemy out there that wants to kill us."

McCain stressed again that America can't afford to lose the war in Iraq because it would allow the terrorists to set up a base in that country.

"The United States national interests are at stake and we must succeed," McCain said. "We can't fail. I will be the last man standing on this if necessary."

The debate among the 10 declared candidates was held Tuesday night at the University of South Carolina and broadcast on the Fox News Channel.

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