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At Debate, GOP Hopefuls Again Focus on Clinton

A much anticipated Republican debate today in Dearborn, Mich. turned into a contest to see which of the assembled candidates could most effectively skewer Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and her policy proposals.

The Republican presidential hopefuls on the state Tuesday for a debate in Dearborn, Mich. (AFP/Getty Images)

As he has done for much of the past few months, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani found a way to work Clinton into nearly every response. How could Republicans restore confidence in their ability to handle the economy? "Hillary is filled with endless ways to spend," Giuliani offered. What about seeking Congress's approval for a military strike on Iran? "She didn't answer the question," he said. America's relationship with Canada? "Hillarycare"!

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) jumped on board the Hillary-bashing bandwagon, noting that he relished the opportunity to debate Clinton over economic policies because she only had experience in the political world while he knew the business world through and through.

"I understand why jobs come and why they go," Romney said. "I know how to help American companies do business around the world. I can't wait to debate with her."

Clinton's primacy in the debate reveals that Republicans believe two things: First, that Clinton is almost certainly to be the Democratic nominee, and second, that she represents their best chance to retain the White House in 2008.

While the Republicans were more than willing to take shots at Clinton, they were far less outspoken about the differences between them.

Fred Thompson, left, laughs with Sam Brownback, center, Tom Tancredo during a break during Tuesday's debate. (AP Photo)

The one major clash between the frontrunners -- Giuliani and Romney -- came over economic policy and largely reiterated the arguments the two campaigns have been making for the past weeks. Both men scored rhetorical points but neither landed a knockout punch.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), making his first appearance in a presidential debate, avoided the Giuliani-Romney fray purposely. He seemed to relax considerably as the debate continued, and by the end was even able to parry a canned one-liner from Romney about the similarities between this debate and "Law & Order" (huge cast and Thompson shows up at the end -- heyoooo!) with a dagger of his own: "And to think I thought I was going to be the best actor on the stage." Thompson also passed what could have been a terrible moment; asked the name of the prime minister of Canada, the former senator responded immediately and correctly: "Harper".

Thompson was not the smoothest candidate on the stage (that was, as always, Romney), but he did offer viewers a broad view of his governing philosophy: Times are good now but problems exist that must be addressed through a series of hard choices. "We are eating our seed corn...we're better than that."

Look for The Fix's winners and losers post tomorrow morning. And, if you missed the debate live, check out the rebroadcast on MSNBC tonight at 9 p.m. ET

Wednesday on Brownback and Paul

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) will be online at 11 a.m. ET and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) will be online at 3 p.m. ET. Both will answer questions from readers.

Submit a question for Brownback here.

Submit a question for Paul here.

Schedule of future candidate Q&As.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 9, 2007; 6:08 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Republican Debate: Winners and Losers

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