The ten contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination gathered in Manchester, NH tonight to try and establish a solid frontrunner for the Republican nomination. The debate got off to a fast start with the first question being, “Knowing what you know now, was it a mistake to invade Iraq in 2003?” Giuliani mouthed the Bush position almost word for word. Romney, as he often does, avoided the question. He called the question “non-sequitur.” and said that it was “unreasonable” and “hypothetical.” He added, “You can say if we knew then what we know now, by virtue of inspectors being let in and giving us that information, by virtue of Saddam Hussein following the resolutions, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

McCain drew the most applause for defending the Iraq war and attacking Hillary Clinton for calling Iraq, Bush’s war.” McCain said, “What Sen. Clinton doesn’t understand is that presidents don’t lose wars,” McCain said. “Political parties don’t lose wars. Nations lose wars and nations have the consequences of failure. We must succeed in this conflict.” The other bit of news out of this part of the debate was that Sen. Sam Brownback, and McCain both admitted that they did not read the National Intelligence Estimate before they voted to authorize the war in Iraq. “I had a number of briefings and I held a number of committee hearings. I was chairing the Middle East subcommittee on foreign relations and we held hearings on this topic and what was taking place and what Saddam was doing,” Brownback said. 

McCain said, “I did not read that particular document. I received hundreds of briefings, tens and hundreds of hours of study and background and information on it. The fact is Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction before on his own people and on his own enemies and if he had gotten them again, he would use them again.” These confessions led former VA governor Jim Gilmore to point out that, members of Congress, “ought to read at least that kind of material.” The debate also covered immigration, included Iran, evolution, abortion, global warming, health care, prescription drug costs, don’t ask don’t tell, Bush’s role in a future administration, and why the GOP is struggling.

On the topic of the immigration reform bill, McCain was the bill’s lone supporter on stage. McCain used the opportunity when asked if his campaign would advertise in Spanish to talk about why he supports the immigration reform bill, “So let’s from time to time remember that these are God’s children,” McCain said. “They must come into our country legally, but they have enriched our culture and our nation, as every generation of immigrants before them.”

McCain is the only GOP candidate for president that supports the immigration reform bill. At one point he said, “We cannot have 12 million people washing around America illegally, my friends.” This drew criticism from everybody else on stage. “It’s a typical Washington mess,” Giuliani said. “It’s everybody compromises, four or five compromises. The litmus test you should have for legislation is, is it going to make things better?” he said. “And when you look at these compromises it is quite possible it will make things worse.”

Overall the candidates stuck to traditional GOP themes on the issues. I am sure that Rudy Giuliani’s mike shorting out to due to a lightning strike while he was answering a question about abortion will overshadow most of what was said in this debate, but the candidates had little new to say about most of the topics that weren’t immigration or Iraq. Some of the candidates had a better night than others, but no one still has assumed the position of a solid frontrunner. Giuliani and Romney still dodged and parsed questions, McCain stuck to his guns, Ron Paul was the only conservative on the stage, and none of the other candidates distinguished themselves in any way. In my opinion, the winners include McCain, Huckabee, Tancredo, and Paul. The losers were Romney, Giuliani, Brownback, Hunter, Thompson, and Gilmore.

In case you missed it, you can check out the debate at www.cnn.com

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse  

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