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GOP Debate Wrapup: Frontrunners Under Fire

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- the two leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination -- came under pointed criticism both from their rivals and from New Hampshire residents in tonight's debate in the Granite State.

Romney, who leads in polling in both Iowa and New Hampshire, was repeatedly questioned about his issue positions on matters ranging from the surge in Iraq to his past statement equating his sons' work on behalf of his campaign to the service of American troops in Iraq.

After Romney said that the surge of American troops in Iraq was "apparently" working, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) quickly jumped in. "The surge is working," McCain bristled. "Not 'apparently.'"

Later, a man whose son is serving in Iraq castigated Romney for making the comparison between his sons' sacrifice and those of the men and women fighting in the Middle East. The man said Romney had "offended" him and added: "You never should have said it." Romney responded somewhat gamely but was clearly flustered.

Giuliani, too, came in for criticism -- in the form of a college student who asked him ( albeit obliquely) -- whether the problems in his personal life in any way contradicted his advocacy of family values. Giuliani was ready for this line of attack, repeating his past response that he has never claimed to be perfect and has some of the same struggles in his family life as many Americans do.

The focus on Romney and Giuliani reinforced the notion that the race right now is between those two men with former Sen. Fred Thompson who did not attend the debate as a potential wildcard. (Thompson announced he was running during a taping of "The Tonight Show" earlier this evening and will follow it up with a tour of early voting states tomorrow.)

For the first time in the debates, Romney and Giuliani took each other on over issues, battling for the conservative mantle on immigration and crime.

Romney repeatedly hammered at Giuliani's past statement welcoming illegal immigrants to New York City while Giuliani time and again referenced his record of making the Big Apple the safest big city in America. From our vantage point, both scored points but neither delivered a knockout blow.

In truth, it was McCain who stole the night with his passionate defense of his credentials as a war hero, enemy of pork barrel spending and truth teller. McCain has slipped badly in national polling but remains in the game in New Hampshire where he scored a stunning upset of George W. Bush in 2000. While McCain remains a major longshot for the nomination, his performance tonight showed he is still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to winning in New Hampshire.

Giuliani, for one, seemed to recognize that -- repeatedly praising McCain. Giuliani even went so far as to say he would have endorsed McCain if he himself was not running.

Make sure to check The Fix tomorrow for our winners and losers from tonight's proceedings.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 5, 2007; 11:05 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Republican Debate: Winners and Losers

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