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Domestic Issues Dominate 1st Hour of GOP Debate

Domestic issues dominated the first hour of tonight's GOP debate, a focus that put frontrunner John McCain on defense on issues like illegal immigration and tax cuts.

On immigration, McCain was asked by Los Angeles Times reporter Janet Hook whether he would now vote for his comprehensive reform plan that included a path to citizenship. McCain dodged the direct question, insisting that such a scenario would never come to pass because the legislation was dead. He reiterated his now familiar line that "people want the border secured first" before arguing that all four Republicans generally agreed on how to handle immigration.

Pressed on his vote against President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, McCain again dodged the direct question about his motives for that vote -- instead noting his credentials as a "footsoldier" in the Reagan revolution and the support he enjoys from a number of noted fiscal conservatives.

Mitt Romney, McCain's main rival for the Republican nomination, sought to draw contrasts on both issues. On immigration, Romney said he is opposed to any form of "amnesty," adding: "Those who have come here illegally should not be given a better deal."

On tax cuts, Romney said he supported the Bush tax cuts from the start and made sure to note that McCain was one of only two Republicans to cast a vote against the legislation.

While McCain came under serious scrutiny from the moderators as well as Romney, he sustained no serious self-inflicted wounds in the first half hour of the debate. He largely repeated reliable lines from his stump speech, adopting a low-risk strategy that is a tacit acknowledgment of his belief that he is the frontrunner for his party's nomination.

Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, meanwhile, have faded into the background of this debate, struggling to break through amid the scrap between McCain and Romney.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 30, 2008; 9:09 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: McCain, Romney Clash in Personal Terms

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