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Republican US Presidential Contenders Spar Over Leadership

In the final hours before Tuesday's New Hampshire presidential primary, the top Republican contenders clashed over taxes, immigration and presidential leadership in a debate broadcast by the Fox News Channel. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone is following the U.S. presidential race in New Hampshire.

After all the talk and debate about who would be the biggest tax cutter or the toughest on illegal immigration, the Republican contenders made a final pitch for support based on their ability to lead.

Senator John McCain of Arizona has vaulted into a narrow lead in several recent public opinion polls in New Hampshire. McCain stressed his military background and years of experience in the Senate dealing with foreign policy and national security issues.

"It is important to know the players, know the issues, have the knowledge and background in order to address the issues," McCain said. "And I will leave that to the judgment of the American people as to whether that is important in these very, very challenging times."

Trailing McCain but still within striking distance in the Republican race is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney hopes to improve on a disappointing second-place showing in last week's Iowa caucuses, and says he is the candidate best prepared to assume the presidency.

"And what they are looking for is a president, not a general or an expert in a particular area, but instead a president who has judgment, wisdom, the ability to make difficult decisions, has the temperament to make those kinds of decisions, the calm under fire," Romney said.

Romney finished second in Iowa to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee is hoping his Iowa showing will boost him in New Hampshire, but the polls have him trailing well behind both McCain and Romney.

"As far as executive experience, I have got more than anyone running for president, Democrat or Republican, in running a government," Huckabee said. "Ten and one-half years of being a governor, three years of being a lieutenant-governor."

Also taking part in Sunday's debate were former Senator Fred Thompson, of Tennessee, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Thompson emphasized his experience as a lawyer and senator, while Giuliani focused on his leadership skills as mayor, especially in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

"What America is looking for is not a perfect person," Giuliani said. "America is looking for a leader, one who can give the United States hope, one who can give the United States optimism."

A new poll by the USA Today newspaper and the Gallup organization has McCain at 34 percent in New Hampshire, followed by Romney at 30 percent, Huckabee at 13 percent, Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 8 percent and Giuliani at 8 percent.

On the Democratic side, the USA Today Gallup poll shows Senator Barack Obama of Illinois pulling away a bit from Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. Obama has 41 percent in this latest poll, while Clinton trails with 28 percent and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina placed third at 19 percent.