- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2007

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said last night that he would be “OK” with a Supreme Court repealing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

But Mr. Giuliani said he would approve of the justices upholding the decision — a sharp contrast with the nine other candidates on the stage for the first Republican primary debate, who said they would welcome its overturn and one even saying that would be “the greatest day in the country’s history.”

It was the latest stance for Mr. Giuliani on an issue that has dogged his campaign as he tries to win the nomination of an avowedly pro-life party whose social conservative base has such power in the primaries.

“It would be OK to repeal. It would be also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent,” Mr. Giuliani said during the 90-minute debate hosted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. “I think the court has to make that decision and then the country can deal with it.”

Pressed by the moderator, who called Mr. Giuliani’s position “nuanced,” the candidate went into more detail, saying “I hate abortion.” He added that he opposes federal funding for abortions, though he said states should be allowed to fund them and that it was the right policy for New York to fund them.

But he took more criticism from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said it takes more to be a pro-life candidate than leaving the decisions up to the courts.

“You can fight, for instance, to make sure that partial-birth abortion is made illegal,” he said, also criticizing the campaign-finance rules written by fellow candidate Sen. John McCain, which he said have stifled pro-life groups’ efforts to participate in elections.

While social issues and the Republican Party’s recent woes dominated the debate, the candidates mostly found agreement on how to handle the war in Iraq, with just Rep. Ron Paul of Texas opposing the war effort.

Mr. McCain, trying to recapture his status as front-runner in the Republican presidential field, blasted Democrats for opposing President Bush’s troop surge, saying that although the administration “terribly mismanaged” the war early on, it now has the right strategy.

“If we lost, then who won? Did al Qaeda win?” the Arizona Republican said, denouncing the Democrats in Congress who applauded on the House floor after they passed a bill setting a timetable for withdrawal.

The candidates competed to see who would take a tougher line in Iran, with several saying the nation has already done enough to draw a harsh U.S. response.

“Iran has crossed the line. The United States has absolute license at this time to take whatever actions are necessary,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, who also said the U.S. should act before Iran gains nuclear capabilities. “We should not get to the edge of this cliff.”

Mr. Giuliani said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is “an irrational person” who must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons.

“He has to look at a president and see Ronald Reagan,” said Mr. Giuliani, who mentioned the former president several times throughout last night’s debate.

The candidates yesterday stood in the museum’s Air Force One Pavilion in the shadow of the Boeing 707 that served as the presidential plane during Mr. Reagan’s administration. The former president’s legacy also cast a shadow over the entire night’s proceedings, as the candidates attempted to cloak themselves in his mantle. Mr. Reagan was mentioned by name or reference 19 times, every single one of them laudatory.

“He believed in principles, he articulated them and put them into effect,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. “It’s not necessarily whether you’re a centrist or not, it’s whether you believe in your heart in the things you say.”

By contrast, Mr. Bush came in for some harsh criticism and was rarely mentioned unless the candidates were asked directly about him and his policies.

Only Mr. McCain, who was among the harshest critics of Mr. Bush’s war policy, specifically tied himself to the president, saying he was “proud to work with the president” on immigration.

For his part the libertarian-leaning Mr. Paul held up three other chief executives worthy of praise — Presidents Eisenhower, Taft and Nixon — rather than Mr. Bush.

While it was a peripheral issue among the questions, the candidates themselves repeatedly brought up immigration, with Mr. Tancredo and Mr. Hunter urging swifter and stronger action on the borders.

With 10 candidates, the debate was unwieldy and jumped around quite a bit, with little time to develop any line of questioning.

Several times, debate moderator Chris Matthews tried to stir the debate by tossing out quotes from one of the candidates and asking another to agree or disagree, usually with little luck.

But the candidates themselves found their own points of contention. At one point, Mr. McCain took issue with Mr. Romney’s statement that it was “not worth moving heaven and earth” to capture or kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“I will follow him to the gates of hell,” Mr. McCain vowed.

Mr. Romney said he was trying to stress the importance of the broad war on terrorists.

“I don’t want to buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person — Osama bin Laden — because after we get him, there’s going to be another and another,” he said. “But he is going to pay, and he will die.”

Some of the questions got at the heart of candidates’ religious beliefs.

Asked for a show of hands for who does not believe in evolution, Mr. Tancredo, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee raised their hands.

Mr. McCain promised to veto the first pork-laden spending bill that crosses his desk, but in response to a question submitted over the Internet, he couldn’t name a single program he would cut.

“Let’s stop the pork-barrel spending, then we’ll look at programs,” he said.

The other Republicans in last night’s debate were former Govs. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin and James S. Gilmore III of Virginia.

The debate was broadcast on MSNBC, co-sponsored by the Politico.

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