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In U.S., 10 Republicans meet for their first presidential debate, trying to avoid missteps

In U.S., 10 Republicans meet for their first presidential debate, trying to avoid missteps

Ten Republicans, one stage, 90 minutes _ just enough time for Rudy Giuliani, John McCain or Mitt Romney to make a major gaffe as underdog rivals scramble for relevancy during the first Republican presidential debate Thursday.
The three heavyweights were expected to boast of their own past accomplishments and outline their visions for the future, mainly playing it safe as they seek to start distinguishing themselves from one another eight months before the first Republican primary votes are cast.
"This is batting practice," said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist who offered the trio a bit of advice: "Don't get hurt."
Democrats held their first debate last week in South Carolina, during which the candidates criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
Giuliani, McCain and Romney all kept their public campaign schedules relatively light over the past few days, opting to spend as much time as possible huddling with aides to rehearse their responses to expected questions on top issues such as Iraq, immigration, taxes, abortion, gay marriage and terrorism.
Lesser-known candidates like Sen. Sam Brownback and former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Jim Gilmore of Virginia were simply looking for respect, hoping to be seen as serious contenders in the jam-packed field for the 2008 election.
Reps. Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter were sure to use the gathering as a platform to plug their signature issues: immigration and national security, respectively. Rep. Ron Paul also was to be on stage for the debate, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library north of Los Angeles.
MSNBC and The Politico were co-sponsoring the debate, moderated by MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Library officials said the former president's widow, Nancy Reagan, would attend.
Missing will be three Republicans still weighing whether to run _ Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator; Newt Gingrich, the ex-House speaker; and Sen. Chuck Hagel. They also were not slated to participate in two more debates _ in South Carolina and New Hampshire _ over the next month.
The Reagan library was a fitting setting. Most, if not all, of the Republican candidates have embraced Ronald Reagan's legacy and called for their party to return to the small-government, low-tax, strong-military ideals he espoused. California also is fertile ground in the Republican primary fight now that the state has decided to hold its primary on Feb. 5, far earlier than in elections past.
With 10 candidates answering a wide range of questions in such a limited amount of time, Republican operatives say Giuliani, the former New York City mayor; McCain, a four-term senator; and Romney, an ex-Massachusetts governor, probably will not have much of a chance to make significant impressions that could help them break out of the leaders' pack and shake up the race.
"It's going to be very short," Romney told late night TV talk show host Jay Leno on Wednesday on "The Tonight Show." "Get on, get off, keep your hair from getting messed up."
"It's mostly a matter of sticking to the talking points that you've been saying," Galen said. "The good news for any of the top three is not to make any news."
Nevertheless, the seven second- and third-tier Republican hopefuls could prove dangerous to the trio, providing numerous opportunities for missteps.
Asked how a candidate gets ready to face nine opponents, McCain told reporters last week aboard his campaign bus in New Hampshire: "You just prepare your own answers. You probably know most of the questions."
"I'm not sure how you manage 10 people. It's awfully hard logistically," added McCain, who lost the nomination to George W. Bush in 2000. "It's not like it was with me and Bush."
Other candidates are looking to earn a seat at the head table.
"The key thing is just to be able to show there's a capacity to stand with those others and there's a misconception about what a front-runner looks like," said Huckabee, who trails several rivals in fundraising, polls and organization. In an interview, the ex-governor said he also is focused on avoiding mistakes _ "like falling off the podium or looking at my watch."
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On the Net:
http://www.reaganlibrary.com


Updated : 2021-07-28 23:08 GMT+08:00