SIMI VALLEY, CALIF. -- The Iraq war dominated much of the first GOP presidential debate Thursday, with front-runners Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney battling for the legacy of Ronald Reagan at the library where he is buried.
On the contentious issue of abortion -- where many simply want to know where a candidate stands -- the debate perhaps created a problem for Giuliani while Romney got a chance to explain why he switched sides.
The former New York mayor, who stands out in the 10-man race because he calls himself "pro-choice," appeared to waffle when candidates were asked if they favored the repeal of the landmark Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling guaranteeing women the right to abortion.
All 10 said yes, including Giuliani. "It would be OK to repeal," he said. He added, "I think the court has to make that decision and then the country can deal with it."
Romney supported abortion rights during his successful campaign to become Massachusetts governor; he is campaigning for president calling himself "pro-life." At the debate, he explained, "It's a 'brave new world' mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us and I changed my mind."
Reagan's name was constantly invoked throughout the 90-minute session, coming a week after Democrats debated in Orangeburg, S.C.
The debate showed some fissures among the Republican 2008 hopefuls: They were divided on the need for national identification cards and whether Congress was right to inject itself in the Terry Schiavo right-to-die case.
McCain presented the strongest defense of the Iraq war, though calling it "terribly mismanaged."
McCain, going after Democratic leaders who are pressing for legislation forcing timelines on President Bush for withdrawing troops, presented the darkest warning of what would happen if the United States withdrew soldiers.
"There will be chaos; there will be genocide and they will follow us home," he said.
A moment of humor came when it was asked if it would be good if Bill Clinton were back living in the White House.
Said Romney, "You have got to be kidding."