The Republican presidential candidates engaged in a slashing debate Wednesday night over immigration and other issues, confronting one another in testy exchanges that reflected the wide-open nature of the race in the final sprint toward the Iowa caucuses.
The debate in St. Petersburg, Fla., showcased some of the fierce battles that have recently raged on the trail between Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Romney accused Giuliani of making New York City a "sanctuary city" when he was the mayor, and Giuliani turned the tables on him, saying Romney had employed illegal immigrants at his home, adding, "I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city."
The debate also reflected a new reality in the Republican race: For the first time, several candidates used the debate to take shots at Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who has come from behind to surge in several polls of Iowa caucusgoers in recent weeks.
Clashes on immigration
The questions for the debate, which was sponsored by CNN and YouTube, came in the form of home videos submitted by viewers. And although the animated snowman made famous in the Democratic YouTube debate earlier this year returned only for a brief cameo Wednesday night, there were plenty of frosty exchanges between the candidates.
For the first half-hour, the candidates clashed on a single issue, immigration, which has aroused strong passions for months on the campaign trail.
After Romney and Giuliani argued over immigration, Romney turned on Huckabee for a proposal he had made as governor of Arkansas to give a tuition break to the children of illegal immigrants to go to college.
"Mike, that's not your money," Romney said. "That's the taxpayers' money. And the right thing here is to say to people that are here legally as citizens or legal aliens: We're going to help you. But if you're here illegally, you ought to be able to return home or get in line with everybody else, but illegals are not going to get taxpayer-funded breaks that are better than our own citizens."
Huckabee responded: "In all due respect, we're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did."
The questions elicited differences among the candidates on a variety of issues:
* Romney tangled with Sen. John McCain of Arizona over whether waterboarding should be defined as torture. McCain said that Romney's failure to condemn waterboarding reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of American principles. Romney did not back down, however, and said that he was glad that the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was still open.
* Romney said that if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Congress passed legislation outlawing all abortions nationwide, he would sign it; Giuliani said he would not, saying the decision about abortion should be up to each state.
* Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado said they supported or had signed a pledge put forward by an anti-tax group, Americans for Tax Reform, never to raise taxes; McCain and Fred D. Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee, said they would make pledges only to the American people, and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said raising taxes could be necessary in a national emergency.
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