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Republican Debate: The First Half

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Sitting in what moderator Charlie Gibson described as a "semi circular dining room table," former governors Mike Huckabee (Ark.) and Mitt Romney (Mass.) battled one another over their respective records and past public statements -- an exchange that dominated the first 45 minutes of the GOP debate.

Huckabee, riding high on his victory in the Iowa caucuses on Thursday night, started the festivities by taking issue with Romney's condemnation of his comments about the "arrogance" of the Bush Administration on some matters of foreign policy.

"I supported the war when you didn't," Huckabee said.

Romney interrupted -- again noting that he disagreed with the article penned in Foreign Affairs magazine by Huckabee. Huckabee refused to back down, asking Romney: "Did you read the article?" Romney scolded Huckabee; "Don't try and characterize my positions," he said.

"Which one," retorted Huckabee, a line that drew oohs and ahhs from the hundreds of reporters sitting beside The Fix in the media filing center.

The back and forth between Huckabee and Romney allowed Sen. John McCain, the current frontrunner in New Hampshire, to stay above the fray -- casting himself as a consistent and principled conservative who is the lone candidate on the stage who supported the U.S. troop surge in Iraq as soon as it was proposed.

Other highlights from the first 45 minutes:

* ABC News's Gibson tried to tee up a fight between Romney and McCain by asking them each to expound on the consistency of their positions throughout the years. Both men were unwilling to go down that road, choosing instead to talk about their vision for the country rather than attacking the other's vision.

* Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani must be happy that Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) was included in this debate. Paul's opposition to President Bush's foreign policy and war strategy allowed Giuliani to condemn Paul's views and remind viewers of his work to go on offense against terrorists in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "The president got the big decision of his presidency right," said Giuliani.

* Former Sen. Fred Thompson -- as he has in past debates -- seems largely content to outline his own policies rather than draw contrasts with his opponents. That's a great strategy if you are the frontrunner; less effective if you are mired in single digits as Thompson is in New Hampshire.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 5, 2008; 7:55 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: The Republican Debate: The Roundup

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