Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 7 News List

GOP debaters take shots at Hillary

RED HERRING When they were not focused on Senator Clinton, the candidates emphasized their conservative credentials on issues such as tax cuts and gun control

AP , ORLANDO, FLORIDA

And the loser is ... Hillary Clinton.

That's how Republicans cast their debate on Sunday night, when they were not feuding with one another in their most direct and contentious exchanges yet.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani used humor to hit Clinton, exclaiming, "You gotta be kidding!" when asked if he differs with her abortion and gay rights.

"There are two things I agree with Hillary Clinton on. First of all, we're both Yankee fans," he said to laughter, referring to the New York baseball team.

"Well, wait a second -- I became a Yankee fan growing up in New York. She became a Yankee fan growing up in Chicago," he said of the former first lady, who moved to New York to run for the Senate in 2000.

Then Giuliani quoted her as saying, "I have a million ideas; America cannot afford them all."

"I'm not making it up," he said to more laughter. "No kidding, Hillary -- America can't afford you."

Relaxed, smiling and conversational, Giuliani reinforced his image as a front-runner much as he does on the campaign trail, by disparaging the Democratic New York senator and former first lady as much as he criticizes other Republicans.

"He's got that riff down well, and it was really funny and very effective," Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. "Don't underestimate the value of experience in these forums -- he's obviously a bright man and has gotten very comfortable."

Clinton makes an easy target among Republicans, despite, or perhaps because of, her lead in polls against Republican contenders. The audience of more than 3,300 party faithful cheered at every Clinton line in the debate, which was sponsored by Fox News Channel and the Florida Republican Party.

"Scoring points on Hillary in this group -- hell, that's like a 5-foot basket. You're just dropping the ball in," said David Johnson, a Tallahassee political strategist and former head of the Florida Republican Party.

Mitt Romney, dominant in polling in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, challenged Clinton's experience.

"She hasn't run a corner store. She hasn't run a state. She hasn't run a city. She has never run anything," the former Massachusetts governor said.

The biggest applause line of the night, delivered by Senator John McCain, also came at Clinton's expense. McCain, a foe of congressional spending, mentioned Clinton's effort to spend US$1 million on a Woodstock Museum to commemorate perhaps the most famous counterculture event of the 1960s.

"Now, my friends, I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event," McCain said.

"I was tied up at the time," he deadpanned, and the audience rose, applauding the reference to McCain's years as a Vietnam prisoner of war.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist known for his folksy one-liners, said: "Look, I like to be funny. There's nothing funny about Hillary Clinton being president."

When they were not focused on Clinton, the candidates emphasized their conservative credentials, putting Giuliani and Romney on the spot.

Former Senator Fred Thompson said: "Mayor Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion. He believes in sanctuary cities. He's for gun control. He supported Mario Cuomo, a liberal Democrat, against a Republican who was running for governor, then opposed the governor's tax cuts when he was there."

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