Gathered around what Charles Gibson called a quasi-diningroom table, six GOP candidates met tonight for the first of two debates in New Hampshire before Tuesday's primary. Under less formal rules, they discussed Bush foreign policy, health care, immigration, and energy independence. Mitt Romney drew the most flak from other candidates, who were allowed to interrupt and correct each other.
On Iraq, each attempted to separate himself from the unpopular aspects of the Iraq war, as well as each other. "I'm not running for George Bush's third term," Mike Huckabee declared. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain were forceful in supporting what Rudy called the "big decision" of the Bush presidency, to "go on the offense against terrorism," with McCain pointing out that he was the only one to publicly disagree with the Rumsfeld war strategy early on; Huckabee, Romney and McCain fought over who supported the surge first. On immigration, Mitt Romney staked out the most militant stance, accusing McCain and Giuliani of sanctioning "amnesty" for illegals.