on November 30, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Tempers still raw after fractious Republican debate

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) – Tempers were raw between rival Republican presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney on Thursday after a lively debate that included what the Romney camp called a nasty attack by Giuliani.

The two candidates — Giuliani ahead in national polls and Romney leading in the two early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire — went toe-to-toe on Wednesday on illegal immigration and other issues.

In the sharpest exchange of the night, Giuliani had a tough response when Romney insisted New York had been a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants when Giuliani was mayor.

Giuliani labeled the former Massachusetts governor’s home a “sanctuary mansion” and accused him of turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants working on its upkeep.

“It just happens you have a special immigration problem that nobody else up here has,” Giuliani added. “You were employing illegal immigrants.”

“I thought that that was Mayor Giuliani showing his nasty side,” said Romney communications director Matt Rhoades. “And it was a personal attack of a personal nature, and the audience booed him.”

Giuliani aide Bill Paxon, a former Republican congressman, said it was Romney who initiated the attack on Giuliani.

“Others have tried to misrepresent his record. And I think they learned that he doesn’t take it when he’s attacked. He’s going to come back, he’s going to tell the truth, he’s going to lay it out,” Paxon said.

How Republican voters will view the scrap remains to be seen, but some of the other participants and viewers of the debate thought it was over the top.

Tempers are rising with little more than a month to go before Iowa on January 3 holds the first of the state-by-state contests to determine which Republican and Democrat will face off in the November 4, 2008, election. New Hampshire is on January 8.

“I thought that was overdone,” said Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who himself got into a couple of sparring matches with Arizona Sen. John McCain at the CNN/YouTube event. “I finally got a little bit tired of it — especially because I couldn’t participate in the debate.”

Chuck Norris, the martial arts expert and tough-guy actor who is backing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said the dust-up helped Huckabee.

“You know what I did? I tuned them out,” Norris said. “I don’t listen to mud-slinging. I want to know what the issues are.”

Tennessee Republican Rep. Zach Wamp, a backer of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, called it a “bad night.”

“Romney and Giuliani — they were almost spinning out of control,” said Wamp, insisting that his man did “incredibly well because he’s strong and resolute and comfortable now.”

WHO’S THE VICTIM

The Giuliani and Romney camps each portrayed their candidate as the victim of negative attacks not just from each other but from other candidates.

“While Rudy’s objective was to talk to the American people about why he’s best qualified to be president and where he wants to take this country, other candidates had something different in mind,” said Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella.

Romney told MSNBC that he was under attack because he has a strong position in early voting states.

“So it’s not a surprise they’re going to be coming after me. But as you could probably tell, those who came after me, they got as good as they gave,” he said.

Romney accused Giuliani of trying to deflect attention from his own record on illegal immigration.

He said Giuliani “has been making up facts left and right over the last couple of weeks.”

“I’m going to come back hard on him, particularly when the reason I believe he’s doing that is that he’s got a record on illegal immigration that just does not stand up to the light of day,” Romney said.

(Editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler)