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Campaign trail rancor carries into GOP debate

  • Story Highlights
  • YouTube questions address taxes, the Bible, abortion, gun control
  • Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee spar over immigration
  • McCain challenges Paul over suggestion to bring troops home from Iraq
  • Nearly 5,000 videos for the GOP debate; 2,000 more than Democratic debate
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) -- The acrimony from the Republican campaign trail carried over quickly into the CNN/YouTube GOP presidential debate Wednesday.

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The debate marked the first time the candidates had faced off on the same stage in over a month.

With five weeks to go until the first contest of the 2008 nominating season, the Republican candidates engaged in a free-for-all, trying to differentiate their views on immigration, the Iraq war, abortion, gun control and even whether they believed every word in the Bible was true.

Unlike previous debates in which the candidates focused most of their attacks on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Wednesday night's attacks were launched at each other.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney traded jabs over illegal immigration, something they have been arguing about on the trail for the past month.

Romney attacked Giuliani's record, saying that as mayor, he promoted illegal immigration. And Giuliani shot back, accusing Romney of having a "sanctuary mansion" at his own home. Video Watch the debate format produce raw moments »

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"In his case, there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them. There was a sanctuary mansion -- at his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed," Giuliani said.

Romney denied Giuliani's allegation, and the two raised their voices as they tried to talk over each other.

In his quest to appeal to the hard-line immigration wing of the party, Romney also turned some of his fire on the same topic toward former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has been rising in the polls.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, who has anchored his candidacy on securing the borders and cracking down on illegal immigration, seemed delighted with the give and take, saying the other candidates were trying to "out-Tancredo" him.

Huckabee drew one of the night's largest cheers when he said that one of the agencies he would abolish to control federal spending was the Internal Revenue Service.

"Most people in this country are more afraid of an audit than they are of a mugging, and there's a reason why," he said.

Sen. John McCain, freshly back from a visit to Iraq over Thanksgiving and the most hawkish of the candidates, and Rep. Ron Paul, the most anti-war of the candidates, tangled on two occasions over the Iraq war. Did YouTubers get their questions answered? »

Asked which government programs they would cut, Paul said bringing the troops home from Iraq would save "a trillion dollars."

McCain said: "It's that kind of isolationism that caused World War II," which drew some hoots from the crowd. Video Watch McCain, Paul spar on Iraq »

Paul replied: "The real question you have to ask is why do I get the most money from active duty officers and military personnel?"

A retired brigadier general, Keith Kerr, who is gay, asked candidates if they thought U.S. military personnel were professional enough to work with gay and lesbian troops.

CNN later learned that a June media release from the campaign of Democratic front-runner Clinton listed Kerr as a member of its steering committee for gay and lesbian supporters. Video Watch Kerr deny that the Clinton campaign influenced his question »

David Bohrman, CNN senior vice president and executive producer of the debate, said, "We regret this incident. CNN would not have used the general's question had we known that he was connected to any presidential candidate." Political Ticker

Kerr told CNN after the debate that he has not worked for the Clinton campaign and was representing no one other than himself. Kerr also said he is a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian Republican grass-roots organization.

Prior to the debate, CNN had verified Kerr's military background and that he had not contributed money to any presidential candidate.

In a section of the debate about gun ownership rights, three of the GOP presidential hopefuls said they do not own guns: McCain, Giuliani and Romney.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson quipped, "I own a couple of guns -- but I'm not going to tell you what they are or where they are." Video Watch the candidates address gun control »

The debate turned personal when a viewer, holding the Bible, asked: "Do you believe every word of this book? And I mean specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand."

Huckabee, a Baptist minister, said, "Sure, I believe the Bible is exactly what it is."

Giuliani said he believes the Bible, but not "literally true in every respect."

After that, Romney stammered a bit when moderator Anderson Cooper asked him if he believed every word. Video Watch the candidates get personal about the Bible »

"Yeah, the Bible is the word of God. ... I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God," Romney said.

When asked about abortion, Romney said he was wrong in favoring a woman's right to choose -- his position when he was elected governor of Massachusetts.

"If people in this country are looking for someone who's never made a mistake on a policy issue and is not willing to admit they're ever wrong, they're going to have to find somebody else. On abortion, I was wrong," he said.

His remarks came in response to the 30-second video produced for the debate by Thompson's campaign, which included a clip of Romney expressing support for Roe vs. Wade during a 1994 debate against Sen. Ted Kennedy.

When asked what women and doctors should be charged with if abortion was to become illegal, Paul said it was not an issue for the president or the federal government.

"We don't need a federal abortion police, that's the last thing we need," Paul said. He added that the issue should be left to the states and courts and not federal authorities.

On the issues of taxes, Thompson said he'd "never met a tax he liked."

"I've got a tax-cut bill on the table. But I don't do pledges to anybody but the American people," he said.

His response was met by a "Go, Fred, go!" from a member of the audience.

On the issue of trade with China, Rep. Duncan Hunter said China is "cheating on trade ... and it's in the interest of the United States to stop China's cheating. Buy American this Christmas season -- that might keep your neighbor from losing his job."

The candidates fielded video questions submitted by the public via the YouTube Web site, just as Democratic White House candidates did in July.

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The debate was the first time the GOP candidates had faced off on the same stage in over a month.

CNN's political team viewed nearly 5,000 videos for the GOP debate -- about 2,000 more than they saw for the Democrats' debate. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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