Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney defend their conservative credentials during debate - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney defend their conservative credentials during debate

By LIBBY QUAID
Associated Press Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)- Front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney were forced to defend their conservative credentials by their campaign rivals Sunday night in the sharpest debate so far of the Republican presidential campaign.

"You've just spent the last year trying to fool people about your record. I don't want you to start fooling them about mine," Sen. John McCain jabbed at Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson turned Giuliani into his target, saying the former New York mayor supported federal funding for abortion, gun control and havens for illegal immigrants. "He sides with Hillary Clinton on each of those issues," he added, referring to the New York Democrat who leads in the polls for her party's presidential nomination.

The debate's early clashes prompted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to say he wanted no part of a "demolition derby." Instead, he said he was running for the White House to "protect the sanctity of human life."

The debate was the eighth of the campaign, and the first since Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas dropped out of the race, citing insufficient funds.

The remaining rivals stood on a stage at a resort 10 miles from Disneyland, fielding questions for 90 minutes at an event broadcast by Fox News Channel.

The debate unfolded about 10 weeks before voting begins for Republicans. The leadoff Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 3, 2008, and the approaching primary season has coincided with a distinct increase in rhetorical combat among the contenders.

The first question went to Giuliani, asked whether he was more conservative than Thompson. "I can't comment on Fred," the former mayor said. He then added that he had brought down crime, cleaned up Times Square, cut taxes and eliminated the city's deficits.

"I think that was a pretty darned good conservative record," he said. Giuliani fired back at his antagonist. "Fred has problems, too," he said.

He said Thompson was the "single biggest obstacle" in the Senate to legislation limiting the ability of individuals filing lawsuits to recover unlimited damages.

"He stood with the Democrats over and over again" on the issue, Giuliani added. Republicans in Congress tried for years to pass legislation that would cap damages in lawsuits, but never succeeded before losing their majority to Democrats in 2006.

Romney was asked about McCain's earlier claims that he had shifted positions on a number of issues to appeal to conservative Republicans.

The former Massachusetts governor responded that he was proud of his record, particularly since the state had an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.

"I fought to make sure we kept our taxes down. I fought for pro-growth strategies. I cut taxes," he said. Moments later, though, McCain personally turned on Romney.

"Governor Romney, you've been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record.

I don't want you to start fooling them about mine," he said. Saying he would run on his record as a conservative, McCain added, "I don't think you can fool the American people.

I think the first thing you'd need is their respect."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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