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Presidential debate lively

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani used the second GOP debate May 15 to say his pro-choice views should not prevent him from getting the party’s nomination, although at least two candidates questioned his conservative credentials, with one of them saying his views on abortion are illogical.

All 10 Republican candidates gathered at the University of South Carolina for a debate that was much livelier than the one two weeks earlier at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace, one of the debate’s moderators, asked Giuliani if his “pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control” views were the marks of a “true conservative.” Giuliani responded by talking about the “stark differences” on views of taxes and the free market between Republicans and the leading Democratic contender, Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), and saying Republicans “should be uniting” to make sure a GOP candidate wins in 2008.

Once Giuliani finished, Wallace said, to laughter, that he would give Giuliani another 30 seconds to “actually answer my question.”

“I, according to [columnist] George Will, ran the most conservative government in the last 50 years in New York City,” said Giuliani, who is seeking to become the first pro-choice Republican nominee since 1976. “… I think we can agree — all of us on this stage — that we should seek reduction in abortion. I ultimately do believe in a woman’s right of choice, but I think there are ways in which we can reduce abortions.”

Although Giuliani wasn’t dogged by the abortion question this time as much as he was during the first debate, he was asked to respond to a criticism from Republican candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who previously said Giuliani’s position on abortion isn’t rational.

“You have said that you personally hate abortion, but support a woman’s right to choose,” Fox News’ Wendell Goler told Giuliani. “Gov. Huckabee says that’s like saying, ‘I hate slavery but people can go ahead and practice it.'”

Giuliani rejected the comparison.

“There are no circumstances under which I could possibly imagine anyone choosing slavery or supporting slavery,” said Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. “There are people — millions and millions of Americans — who are as of good conscience as we are who make a different choice on abortion. And I think in a country where you want to keep government out of peoples’ lives … from the point of view of coercion, you have to respect that.”

Huckabee, though, said Giuliani’s answer didn’t satisfy him.

“I have great respect for the mayor,” said Huckabee, who is pro-life. “… He’s been honest about his opinion…. But I’m pro-life because I think life begins at conception, and I believe that we should do everything we can to protect that life because it is the centerpiece of what makes us unique as an American people. We value the life of one as if it’s the life of all, and that’s why we go out for the 12-year-old Boy Scout in North Carolina when he’s lost.”

Huckabee continued, “Now, if something is morally wrong, let’s oppose it. The honest argument is, ‘I don’t think it’s morally wrong.’ And someone could take that position and then justify abortion. But if it’s wrong, then we ought to be opposed to it, and we ought to … find better ways to deal with our respect for human life.”

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore also questioned Giuliani’s conservative credentials because of his pro-choice views.

But Giuliani wasn’t the only one asked about his views on pro-life issues. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was asked if he was a “clear and consistent conservative” in light of the fact he once was pro-choice, supported “gay rights” and signed an assault weapons ban. Romney said he supports Second Amendment rights and still supports the ban on assault weapons.

“With regards to gay rights,” Romney said, “I have always been somebody who opposes discrimination, but I also consistently feel that it’s critical to have marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.”

Romney also noted that he was governor in a “blue” liberal state, which he compared to a blue suit that looks black. “That’s how blue Massachusetts is,” he said.

“And in that state, I’ve had to stand up for life, and I have,” he said. “I’ve had to stand up for traditional marriage, and I have. In that very difficult state, I stood to make sure that we could have English immersion in our schools, because I think kids should be taught in English. I fought for the death penalty. I fought for abstinence education. In the toughest of states, I made the toughest decisions.”

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who has made his pro-life views a central theme of his campaign, was asked why a woman who was raped should not have an abortion. Brownback opposes abortion in all cases except to save the mother’s life.

“That would be a very difficult situation,” Brownback responded. “… But the basic question remains: Is the child in the womb a person? Is it a viable life? And if it is a person, it’s entitled to respect…. It’s a terrible situation, where there’s a rape involved or incest. But it nonetheless remains that this is a child that we’re talking about doing this to — of ending the life of this child.”

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, asked to give his views on federal funding for stem cell research, said while both embryonic stem cell and adult stem cell research “show great promise,” new research using amniotic fluid and other new methods means “we do not have to destroy any more embryos.”

“There’s … new research going on at the University of Wisconsin that says that adult stem cells, if you do it the right way, will have the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells,” Thompson said.

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  • Michael Foust