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Debate Opens Elimination Round for GOP


Sunday's debate could be the beginning of the end for some of the Republicans on stage. (AP).

DES MOINES-- Call them the bold and the -- not beautiful, exactly. More like the bold and the cautious. The candidates for the Republican presidential nomination debated Sunday morning and generally broke down into two groups: the leading, and cautious, candidates. And those who are fading fast, but hoping for a miracle in next week's Iowa straw poll.

Sen. John McCain and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who are skipping the straw poll, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who appears well ahead in Saturday's contest, did not go out on a limb during the morning debate on ABC's "This Week" program.

Rather, the leading contenders stuck to their well-honed scripts. Giuliani and Romney attacked democrats and stressed their executive experience. McCain repeatedly touted his long service to the country and his belief that America will win the war in Iraq, eventually. Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson -- still a non-candidate -- took the ultimate safe route: he didn't bother showing up.

If the debate among the three were a car accident, a police officer might be yelling "Move along. Nothing to see here."

By contrast, the second-tier candidates -- those who have struggled to raise money and barely register in national polls -- were more fiesty, hoping to spark an upset in the straw poll. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo were particularly energetic.

For any of the three, besting Romney's well-financed campaign machine in Iowa could catapult them into the first tier of candidates -- or at least force the media and the pundits to take a second look. Money might begin flowing in. Volunteers could come out of the woodwork.

For Romney, a defeat would be an embarassment. After Giuliani and McCain both dropped out, his decision to stay in looked like an easy one. But if he were to come in second or third, people might begin to raise questions about the depth of his support. Romney would have to work to spin his way out of that.

And for that, Sunday's debate might have served as a warm-up exercise.

In the Spin Room on the Drake University campus, the campaigns were certainly ready. Several of the candidates --Tommy Thompson, Huckabee and Brownback among them--made themselves available to the media for upbeat post-game analyses of their performances in the ABC News debate.

Romney, Giuliani and McCain didn't show up, but they were more than adequately represented by their surrogates. You couldn't walk three feet without running into someone from Romney's team and the Giuliani forces included former solicitor general Ted Olson and former House member Bill Paxon.

Former senator Jim Talent, there on behalf of Romney, reported back to his team, "I've got the British press covered. The governor's going to get support in London!"

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of McCain's loyal surrogates, summed up the scene best when he said, "There are more spinners than people to be spun." With that, he decided it was time to leave.

-- Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz

By Post Editor  |  August 6, 2007; 9:44 AM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , The Debates  
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Posted by: dimensio | August 7, 2007 9:03 PM | Report abuse

The entire group looked more like second tier wannabes, no wonder the Republicans are swirming.

Posted by: kaycwagner | August 7, 2007 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Why no mention of Ron Paul? Check this out: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Decision2008/popup?id=3436820

Posted by: bfarmer | August 7, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Huckabee looked good. I hope he can score a great showing in Iowa. Mainly because I don't like Rommey and I think he is too uninspiring to have any chance in the General election.

Huckabee would make a great VP canadate, and a stong showing would hurt Rommney and benefit Guiliani, and McCain too, both of whom could appeal to swing voters in key states. No need to rally the base this election. A Hillary/anyone ticket will do that on its own.

Posted by: HokiePaul | August 7, 2007 11:29 AM | Report abuse

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ISSUE OF IMMIGRATION AND NATIONAL SECURITY? THERE'S A LOT OF CONCERN BY MANY PEOPLE!!! THIS HAS A REAL IMPACT ON LIFE IN THIS COUNTRY. I AM ALSO UPSET LIKE MANY OF MY FRIENDS THAT YOU DID NOT GIVE EQUAL TIME TO ALL THE CANDIDATES. LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE IF THEY THINK THEY ARE GOOD OR BAD. THIS WAS A REALY BAAAAAAD DEBSTE!!!!!

Posted by: 62meadow | August 7, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

When the tally is done you wiil find Mitt Romney to be the only candidate qualified to run our country. I believe the reason the professional politicians in the GOP and conservatives are avoiding Mitt Romney is...he will not be controlled by them and they know he can clear them out of DC and clean up the mountains of waste and duplicate spending in the bureauocracies which invented NEPOTISM and have been there for very many generations of Socialistic and Marxist type Democrats who call themseleves 'public servants'. BTW these are the people who undermine and produce leaks in all of the cabinets and departments to harm the present GOP administration...BUT ONLY THE GOP...NEVER THE DONKEY PARTY.

Posted by: jason4 | August 7, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

McCAIN THE JIG IS UP, YOU HAD YOUR SHOT AND BLEW IT.

Posted by: HORNET12 | August 7, 2007 12:01 AM | Report abuse

I thought Mike Huckabee's comment that the US was fighting a religious war against the Islamists was the scariest comment of the debate.

This "debate" was amateurish and convinced me none of these people are fit to serve as President of the US. If any are elected, it will simply be more of the same or worse.

John McCain, what happened to you?

Posted by: julee | August 6, 2007 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I noticed Huckabee too.
But why no mention of Ron Paul?

I think Ron Paul will finish 2nd in the Iowa Straw Poll.

Posted by: grannymiller | August 6, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Not to be nitpicky about what you define as first and second tier canidates, but you mentioned Tom Tancredo and not Ron Paul?

I'm not a fan of any of the candidates (I'm got my own losing stock in John Edwards), but seriously, make sure you include Ron Paul if you mention Tom Tancredo. Those Paul-iacs are nuts!

Posted by: dp24344 | August 6, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Huckabee was very impressive. I wonder if he will get a bump from this week's Iowa straw poll?!?!

Posted by: cel1ery | August 6, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Mike Huckabee continued to prove why he's gaining momentum in Iowa without media coverage, pundit chatter, or a hoard of cash. Like Edwards in 2004 (but with an authentic conservative air and a presidential bearing) he will stun the pundits who haven't noticed that he's now tied for third among declared candidates in Iowa. Pollster Frank Luntz declared him the clear winner. He connects with voters with the way he commands the facts and concisely presents the conservative message. No wonder he ties Giuliani in one Iowa poll- the more you know him, the more you support him!

Posted by: calvin199 | August 6, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

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