It was no holds barred Sunday as the Republican presidential hopefuls took part in the first Iowa debate of the 2008 elections.
Sen. John McCain, left, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani chat during a break in the Sunday debate.
In a 90-minute session broadcast live on ABC's "This Week," the nine official GOP contenders clamored for support in the state that gets to choose the candidates first.
At the debate, candidates attacked each other's positions on abortion and offered ideas for protecting the nation's infrastructure after the Minneapolis bridge collapse. And they criticized President Bush.
The debate got personal when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took a swipe at Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, whose campaign had sponsored an automated phone message to Iowans. The advertisement accused Romney of pledging to uphold policies legalizing abortion, then claiming he opposed them.
"I am pro-life. And virtually every part of that ad is inaccurate," Romney said.
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Brownback noted Romney's previous stance, which he expressed years ago in a video that is now on YouTube.
"I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have," Romney said.
Brownback vowed that, if elected president, he would appoint a Supreme Court justice who, "I hope, would be the voting decision to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights, was called on to defend his position.
"I believe the best way we can have common ground in this debate that you're hearing is if we put our emphasis on reducing abortions and increasing the number of adoptions, which is something that I did as mayor of New York City," he said. "But I think ultimately that decision that has to be made is one that government shouldn't make.
"Ultimately, a woman should make that with her conscience and ultimately with her doctor."
Since last week's bridge disaster in Minneapolis, state governments and the federal government have begun efforts to ensure bridges around the country are safe.
State and federal officials say the necessary efforts would require federal funds. The presidential hopefuls agreed but said a tax increase is not the answer.
"We should put more money into infrastructure. We should have a good program for doing it. But the knee-jerk liberal Democratic reaction -- raise taxes to get money -- very often is a very big mistake," Giuliani said.
He claimed to have raised money for capital improvement projects through a tax cut that generated more revenue when he was New York City's mayor.
Romney drew a similar picture, saying the "biggest source" of funding is growing the U.S. economy. Also, he said, "We have to reorient how we spend our money."
Arizona Sen. John McCain said Congress shares blame for problems with the nation's bridges and roads.
"We passed a $50 billion transportation bill that had $2 billion in pork-barrel, earmarked projects," he said. "Not one dime in those pork-barrel projects was for inspection or repair of bridges."
The candidates were shown a clip of Bush in 1999 promising to "restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office."
Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo said he would restore "hope."
"Hope in America itself, remembering that we have made a number of mistakes that have turned our friends against us, have encouraged our enemies."
Regarding Iraq, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas stood out as the maverick of the group, repeating his call for an immediate exit. "We went in illegally and we ought to just come home!" he said to applause.
California Rep. Duncan Hunter said the United States is "standing up" Iraq's military. Once the Iraqi forces are "reliable, battle-ready," they will displace U.S. heavy combat forces, he said. "That's the right way to leave, not a stampede for the exit."
McCain and Giuliani each argued that their experience separates them from the pack.
"I am fully prepared -- fully prepared, more than anyone else running on either side -- to fight the transcendent challenge of this nation, which will be for all of the 21st century. And that is the struggle against radical Islamic extremism," said McCain, citing his military background.
Giuliani, speaking next, said the other candidates "haven't held an executive office in their lives. They haven't run a city, a state, a business. ... You've got to have some kind of experience for this job."
Hunter said the United States is "standing up" Iraq's military. Once the Iraqi forces are "reliable, battle-ready," they will displace U.S. heavy combat forces, he said. "That's the right way to leave, not a stampede for the exit."
Several candidates weighed in on Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's pledge last week that he would consider taking military action in Pakistan unilaterally. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, and President Musharraf will not act, we will," Obama said.
The remark drew rebuke from some fellow Democrats, including presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
"I think the senator, if he could just say it over again, might want to say that we would encourage Musharraf to allow us to do it if we thought he couldn't accomplish it," Giuliani said.
Romney had harsher words for Obama. "I think Barack Obama is confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies," he said.
"We do not go out and say to a nation, which is working with us, where we have collaborated and they are our friend and we're trying to support Musharraf and strengthen him and his nation, that instead that we intend to go in there and potentially bring out a unilateral attack," he added.
All the candidates sought to distinguish themselves from Bush, who faces low popularity ratings.
"I'm not a carbon copy of President Bush, and there are things I would do that would be done differently," Romney said. But, he added, "I know they make mistakes. But they have kept us safe these last six years. Let's not forget that.