Tonight, on Fox, the Republican Presidential contenders square off live from the University of New Hampshire.
Fergus Cullen, Chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party:
“This will be the first major debate after the Iowa straw poll and comes some four months before our presidential primary in early January 2008. It is being held at exactly the time campaigns expect the universe of voters paying close attention to the campaign to expand beyond the activists to include large numbers of other New Hampshire voters.”
University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston:
"As the flagship public university in the first-in-the-nation primary state, the University of New Hampshire is honored to host this national presidential primary debate on its campus. The New Hampshire Presidential Primary is a Granite State tradition and we are committed to providing opportunities like this for our students, faculty, staff and members of the community to participate in the political process.”
A lot has changed since the last debate...the Iowa straw poll...the surge in Iraq appears to be (slowly) working...and at midnight, there will be one more candidate to deal with - Fred Thompson will enter the race this evening (conveniently, after the debate is over). We have the emergence of Mike Huckabee, and we will be looking at how John McCain responds to questions about his viability.
Check back in at 9p for the play-by-play and expert analysis (well, at least Bailey the FCPolitico mascot will be here).
Brit Hume is joined by Chris Wallace and Wendell Goeller in the hall and Carl Cameron from a local restaurant. The candidates from left to right: Tancredo, Paul, Huckabee, Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Brownback, Hunter (McCain gets the loudest applause - a good omen?).
First question is about Fred Thompson...Huckabee gets the first laugh and first jab in on 'No Show Fred'. Paul goes after him and says Fred is pro-war...McCain says that they may be up past Thompson's bedtime...wow - they are not going to hold back, are they? Romney and Giuliani take the high road.
Chris Wallace's (loaded) question about immigration to Romney gets a groan/moan from the audience. When Wallace starts in with Giuliani, he brings up a quote from 1994 (with graphic on screen) where Giuliani welcomed illegal immigrants as workers , and said that his policies made the city safer. McCain's turn...and he acknowledges that this is a 'passionate issue' - understatement from the candidate whose campaign took a nosedive when he supported a doomed Senate bill.
Huckabee with a decent take on the issue...the American people are not upset with illegal immigrants themselves...they are upset with the inability of a government to do anything substantial to take care of the issue..."We track packages from UPS and FedEx better than we do people". I notice he didn't mention the USPS.
Checking in with Carl Cameron...he is talking to people at a local restaurant. John Rogers, a police officer, talks about how illegal immigrants are causing a problem (violence), and asks how the government is going to take care of the problem when they are understaffed? Giuliani responds that we need a technical fence in addition to a physical fence, and we need a national ID card...he reached out and brings up support for Huckabee (Giuliani/Huckabee - I can see the bumper sticker now).
Romney takes another jab at Giuliani with an attack on 'sanctuary cities' - camera does a good job with getting a shot with the two of them.
Question about Senator Craig...Duncan Hunter says the good thing about this happening in the Republican Party is that the people leave Congress...Democrats make them head of committees. (rim shot heard off screen)
Huckabee states that life starts at conception...we need to show respect to life no matter what stage it is in. Romney gave some answer about abortion (and allowing it in certain areas of the country) that Bailey is working on interpreting for me.
Ron Paul finally gets a question...he is not getting much respect considering how well he has done in Iowa/Illinois/Texas. His answer about airline security gets a loud approving response from audience.
Question about same-sex marriage...the New Hampshire audience is clearly divided between family values (traditional marriage), and their state motto (Live Free or Die). Brownback does his best, and it is one answer and out. So much for moving beyond the sound bites and trying to find out what these people actually think.
Giuliani: "I'm not running on 9/11." Where, oh where, is Wolf Blitzer to ask the question 'Raise your hand if you believe Rudy is drunk right now'?
A quick question from me to McCain: 'Is the surge working?" (you had to be watching to get that little joke - trust me, you would have laughed)
Ron Paul and Chris Wallace get into it...the crowd starts to get riled up, supporting both when they trade jabs. Whatever Wallace had for the pre-debate dinner, we need to get that recipe. If a look from Paul could kill, Wallace would be down for the count right now.
Huckabee vs Paul over Iraq. Huckabee stresses being united and the honor of the situation we are in, Paul comes back with 'how many more need to die'. Huckabee is eloquent, Paul is forceful...even if there are no concrete ideas, this is good political theater (and you can bet this will be played a few times over the next few weeks).
A father calls out Romney about the comment he made comparing his son's serving on his campaign versus those serving in Iraq (look it up). When asked for an end-game strategy/answer, Romney once again skirts the issue, and wants to hear what is in the report coming out soon before making determinations.
Tancredo says that he would use 'water boarding' to get information to save lives...naturally, they go to McCain next, and he tells the story about a military friend who says that the information the US would get from torturing someone would be over shadowed by the moral hypocrisy we would suffer.
Question to Hunter and then Brownback about Presidential power...both recognize that the office needs the authority to keep people locked up, wire-taps, etc. to get the job done effectively.
McCain: Tax cuts should be made permanent. He will veto EVERY pork barrel bill that would come across his desk (then NOTHING is going to get done - ha! ha!). Oh, BTW, he won't sign the 'no tax pledge' because he stands on his record (once again, you had to be watching - seriously, this is really funny if you're following along).
Giuliani says not taking the anti-tax pledge is a matter of principle...there is only one pledge he will take, and that comes on the day he is sworn in (cheesy, but a little bit better than McCain).
Huckabee gets a question about his support for a fair tax. We would only have to pay on consumables...eliminate taxes on everything else. Would you pay a 23% federal tax on anything you purchase if you didn't have any others to pay? Certainly more than the 15% I remember from Steve Forbes.
Giuliani is not running as a perfect candidate, he is running as a leader. I appreciate the candor, and to an extent he is correct. However, are Republicans going to respond favorably in the primaries/caucuses to a candidate with multiple marriages and whose own children do not support him? A final break, and then another scenario. Let's hope it's better than the nuclear bomb one Fox presented during their last debate.
Hypothetical situation regarding Iran...ends up with Brit Hume asking 'What do you do? What do you do?'...eerily reminiscent of Dennis Hopper addressing Keanu Reeves in Speed (I apologize for the subtitles - at least I found it - forward to 5:45).
I really dislike questions like this...as they move to the next candidate, they add a little bit more to the scenario. They are saving the top-tier to the end.
Giuliani invokes Reagan...first time I have heard that tonight. Romney: good Democrats love America like good Republicans love America. McCain gets the final word (get it, we're on Fox, O'Reilly, get it).
Good night from Brit...next debate is Oct 21 in Florida.
Immediate reaction from voters in a Manchester restaurant: they were disappointed in all the candidates, but they thought that McCain won. Only a few people came into the debate supporting him, but a majority said that he did the best and their comments back that up. They are willing to forgive him on immigration in lieu of his strong leadership.
Giuliani got slammed on style, not necessarily substance. Oh come on folks...I am not saying that Rudy won the debate, but it saddens me that people are more worried with how someone delivers the message instead of what the message actually is.
They really came after Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani this evening; that is what happens when you win the Iowa Straw Poll or are at the top of the national polls. Despite that, both candidates did well in bringing up their records, and explained what they would do if they get elected.
McCain was in a great mood and clearly enjoying himself (what does he have to lose at this point). He was held in a revered position by those on stage, and the immigration issues are apparently old enough news that he was not hurt by it tonight.
Huckabee was the epitome of what a Vice Presidential candidate brings to a potential ticket: do no harm. He was eloquent and positive when needed, and passionate yet respectful when needed. I hate to mention this again, but he is looking more and more like the Republican VP nominee if Giuliani or Romney is the candidate...if it is Fred Thompson, forget it.
The others had their moments and got their applause lines in on queue...but Ron Paul continually had the loudest reactions from the audience, both good and bad.
Remember, at midnight, Fred Thompson 'announces' on his website that he is running. Just a little teaser from The Poitico:
At 7:57 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, while taping "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" for broadcast later in the evening, Fred Thompson finally said: "I'm running for president of the United States."
And it begins.