Republican presidential candidates debated the war in Iraq, taxes and terrorism in a wide-ranging exchange Thursday evening. Mike O'Sullivan reports, 10 Republicans faced off in their first debate of the campaign in Simi Valley, California.
Most candidates supported the U.S. military effort in Iraq, while also calling for a political settlement. Arizona Senator John McCain said there will be chaos and genocide if the United States withdraws its troops. He supports the troop increase now being implemented under General David Petraeus, but says the war was mishandled.
"The war was terribly mismanaged, and we now have to fix a lot of the mistakes that were made," McCain said, adding that "Books have been written, but we have a new strategy and a new general, and these young men and women are committed to winning."
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said he wants to bring the troops home as soon as possible, but not so quickly that they would need to go back.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said the president should have fired former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld before elections last year that led to Democratic victories in Congress. Rumsfeld resigned shortly after the election.
"Clearly, there was a real error in judgment, and that primarily had to do with listening to a lot of folks who were civilians in suits and silk ties and not listening enough to the generals with mud and blood on their boots and medals on their chest," Huckabee said.
In a fast-paced debate, the candidates agreed on a number of topics, from reducing taxes to the need to address Iran's nuclear ambitions.
They also touched on issues that divide them, such as abortion. Most said they would welcome a repeal of Roe versus Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani said it is OK with him if the court upholds the ruling as a precedent, and OK if the court repeals it.
The exchange was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in Simi Valley, California. Former first lady Nancy Reagan was in the audience. Giuliani was one of several candidates who invoked the memory of the popular president.
"And what we can borrow from Ronald Reagan, since we are in his library, is that great sense of optimism that he had. He led by building on the strengths of America, not running America down," Giulliani said
Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas says Republicans can choose from among many good candidates, who are focusing on the issues.
"And that's what I love about this, is that we've got a chance to debate ideas, and we win as a party when we run on ideas, big ideas and principles. And you're seeing these articulated here, and that is why we are going to win in 2008," he said.
Rudolph Giuliani is the frontrunner in polls of Republican voters, with John McCain and Mitt Romney trailing him. However, eight months remain before the first party primaries and caucuses that will select the delegates for the Republican Party's nominating convention.