The gloves are off.
At Sunday night's Fox News-sponsored Republican debate in Orlando, the GOP presidential hopefuls criticized each other more aggressively than then have in any previous debate. But they saved their harshest attacks for the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination: Hillary Clinton.
"She made a statement last week, and I've been very critical of her, but I want to tell her I agree with this one," said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He then cited Clinton's comment that she has "a million ideas; America cannot afford them all."
Giuliani quipped: "No kidding Hillary, American can't afford you."
"She hasn't run a corner store," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "She hasn't run a state. She hasn't run a city. She has never run anything. And the idea that she could learn to be president, you know, as an internship, just doesn't make any sense."
He later asked the audience: "Anyone here want to vote for Hillary?" The question prompted a roar of "No!" from the audience.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee also went after Clinton, twice saying that while he likes humor, there's "nothing funny" about Clinton becoming president.
In the spin room after the debate, candidates and their supporters discussed why, despite the fact that the Republican nomination is still very much up for grabs, there was so much discussion of a Democrat.
"Republicans have to have a debate: Do you want Hillary-light, or do you want to go at her directly?" said Florida Rep. Tom Feeney, a Romney supporter. "And I'm one of those guys that wants to have a fight for the soul of this country with Hillary."
Feeney characterized the Republican nomination fight as a two-man race between Romney and Giuliani. He said the former New York mayor "doesn't have a whole lot of differences on the social issues with Hillary Clinton."
Sen. John McCain criticized Clinton for an amendment to fund a museum commemorating the Woodstock concert, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd. But he also offered rare kind words for the former first lady, noting that "I know and respect Senator Clinton."
McCain promised a "respectful debate" with the candidate since "that is what the American people want."
"I think what John understands is the American public is not looking for a food fight in 2008, they're looking for candidates for the highest office in the land to define their differences in a respectful way," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a McCain supporter.
Ron Paul, who criticized Clinton when asked how he was different from her, was blunt in his assessment of his rivals' attacks on the Democratic frontrunner.
"I think they're bored, and they're not discussing issues, so they have to come up with all this political stuff," he said.
Paul characterized Clinton as "an easy target."
"They're using her to try to enhance themselves with the base," he said.
CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer compared current barbs by Republicans at Clinton to Democrats who attacked former president Hebert Hoover decades after he left office.
"Franklin Roosevelt started running against Herbert Hoover in 1932, and three decades later Democrats were still running against Herbert Hoover," Schieffer said on CBS News' The Early Show. "I think for the Republicans, Hillary Clinton has become the new Herbert Hoover."
"They all want to run against Hillary Clinton. They accused each other of being like Hillary Clinton," Schieffer added. "I came away from this debate wondering, 'What would they do without her?' "
Throughout the duration of "Presidency IV," the weekend fundraiser and convention that culminated in Sunday night's debate, mentions of Clinton drew a strong response from the Florida Republican Party faithful.
"We must ensure that we support our nominee with every ounce of energy each one of us possess," said Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer at a luncheon Saturday. "If not, ladies and gentlemen, we shall watch Hillary Rodham Clinton sworn in on the Capitol steps as the next commander in chief of our United States Armed Forces."
The audience booed loudly at that prospect.
"This is a scene that our nation cannot afford to witness," said Greer.
Former Sen. Fred Thompson, like his rivals, criticized Clinton during the debate, though he has cautioned against focusing too much on the Democratic frontrunner.
"He said we are better than being united by our opposition to her," said Thompson supporter and pundit Mary Matalin.
"(Republicans) need to be for something, not just against something," she added.
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