GOP debate gets nasty on immigration

11/29/07 Mitch E. Perry
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The Republican debate took place last night at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

It began with a spirited nearly half-hour exchange, between frontrunners Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney on who had been more pro-illegal immigrant in the past.

The first YouTube submitted question was from Ernie Nardi from Brooklyn, who called New York City a Sanctuary City for undocumented immigrants, a charge Guiliani denied. But Mitt Romney immediately disputed that.

Guiliani then alluded to a report last year that Romney had employed illegal immigrants to work on his property.

Romney took offense, and told Guiliani he considered it un-American to question employees of a company that comes to provide a service to one’s home.

Later, John McCain called the exchanges sad. McCain’s candidacy has faltered in the race, some analysts say, because of his support for a comprehensive immigration bill backed by President Bush. Critics considered the bill insufficiently punative to undocumented people.

Perhaps the best line of the night regarding the issue came from Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who for years has been one of the most strident members of Congress when it comes to illegal immigration. Tancredo, who called Miami a Third World country last year, said he was enjoying the other candidates following his path.

Guiliani received euphoric cheers after denouncing Texas Congressman Ron Paul, after Paul said American foreign policy has inflamed anger in the Middle East towards the U.S.

Paul, who had by far the most supporters outside the Mahaffey Theater and blocks away at the Palladium, disagreed.

Each of the candidates submitted 30-second videos that were aired during the debate. Fred Thompson’s scored maximum buzz, depicting old footage of Mitt Romney speaking about being pro-choice and Mike Huckabee advocating a tax increase.

For Romney, dogged by charges that he’s a flip-flopper, it allowed him to be, in his words, more human. Guiliani’s frontrunner status has been considered a surprise by some analysts in this primary season, but the reaction to his comment on guns showed that his centrist stand on such issues do not turn on the base.

When asked what the Christian Conservatives on the stage felt what would Jesus do regarding the death penalty, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he felt okay being responsible for executing death row inmates.

McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, has been eloquent in the past in arguing against torture, and he has challenged all of the GOP heavyweights, like Guiliani, Thompson and Romney, on the issue of waterboarding. Last night, only Romney and McCain dueled on the issue, with again McCain taking the moral high ground.

Retired Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr announced that he was gay in his video question, and challenged the candidates on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy on gays. He didn’t hear the answer he wanted.

Later it was revealed that Kerr has served on Hillary Clinton’s LGBT Steering Committee. CNN senior vice president and executive producer of the debate David Bohrman said the cable network would not have used the general's question had it known he was connected to any presidential candidate.

One question came from Damon McMillian from Los Angeles who asked why the GOP didn’t try to attract black voters.

Mike Huckabee said he did get a significant number of African-American votes in the past because he asked for them.

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