GOP Hopefuls Restrained In Iowa Debate

Republican presidential candidates, from left to right, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Alan Keyes, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney are seen on stage before the Des Moines Register Republican Presidential Debate Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, in Johnston, Iowa.
Republican presidential rivals called for deep cuts in federal spending Wednesday in a debate remarkably free of acrimony, and agreed the reductions they seek need not require painful sacrifice by millions of Americans who rely on government services.

"The sacrifice we need from the American people is saying, 'Let the programs go that don't work. Don't lobby for them forever," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one of nine GOP presidential hopefuls sharing an Iowa stage little more than three weeks before the state's caucuses provide the first test of the campaign. (Check out senior political editor Vaughn Ververs' live blogging and analysis of the debate.)

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called for across-the-board cuts of up to 15 percent, including reduced federal spending on health care. "Rather than relying on a nanny government, let's rely on people to decide their own health care," he said.

The debate was the Republicans' last before the Iowa caucuses on Jan 3, and it punctuated a remarkable period of turmoil in their race for the presidential nomination.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has eroded Giuliani's lead in nationwide polls, and he has overtaken Romney in public surveys of likely caucus goers in Iowa. The result has been an increase in testiness - Romney on Tuesday became the first candidate to assail another in a TV ad, hitting Huckabee for his position on immigration.

But all nine men on the debate stage were on their best behavior for an Iowa electorate notoriously scornful of political attacks, and the subject of education produced the only semblance of sparks.

"On subjects ranging from the national debt to education and free trade, there was more agreement than disagreement in this final debate before the January 3rd Iowa caucuses," said's Ververs.

"Unfortunately for any voters tuning in looking to find distinctions between the candidates, it didn't do much to help their search," he added.

Moments after Huckabee said schools should provide all students with music and art instruction at all grade levels, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo took him to task. "That's not the job of a president. It's the job of a governor," he said. "That's what you should run for if you want to dictate curriculum."

Huckabee responded by saying that in his decade as governor he had the "most impressive education record."

Huckabee's tone, including a plea to end long-standing polarization between liberals and conservatives, evoked one of the Democratic candidates more than it did any of the fellow Republicans on stage, CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield said.

"As far as Mike Huckabee was concerned, he used his time to inoculate himself against attack by sounding a little bit like Barack Obama," said Greenfield, who characterized the debate as an "extremely civil exchange."

That brought a polite disagreement from Romney - also a fellow governor. "I just wanted a small adjustment to what Governor Huckabee had to say. And I don't believe you had the finest record of any governor in American on education," he said, eliciting laughter from the debate audience.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee was an exception to the general agreement on spending and sacrifice. "We've got to spend more for the military as a matter of fact, but we've got to look at Social Security and Medicare and do some things that won't hurt anybody badly," he said. Thompson, alone among the White House contenders in both parties, has called for steps to reduce the benefits promised to future retirees. He has also said he supports changes in Medicare, but has yet to outline a specific proposal.

Carolyn Washburn, editor of The Des Moines Register and the debate moderator, brought about a mini-revolt at one point when she asked all the candidates to raise their hands if they thought global warming was a serious threat caused by human behavior. "I'm not doing hand shows today," said Thompson.

Ultimately, no one disputed global warming was a problem and humans at least contribute to it.

"I know it's real," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who advocates legislation to tackle the problem.

"Climate change is real. It's happening. Human beings are contributing to it," agreed Giuliani.

The final pre-caucus Democratic debate is set for Thursday.