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Democrats Targeted In GOP Debate

"Just come home. We just marched in. We can just come back," he said. "It's lasting way too long. We didn't declare war in Korea or Vietnam. The wars were never really ended. We lose those wars. We're losing this one. We shouldn't be there. We ought to just come home."

The audience of Iowa Republicans responded with a mix of applause and boos.

Most candidates said their vice president would have a more limited role in government than is often ascribed to Vice President Cheney. And several questioned President Bush's desire to spread democracy around the world by encouraging elections.

The 90-minute debate was the first opportunity in two months for Republican candidates to highlight their differences before a large, national audience. It was moderated by George Stephanopoulos, host of "This Week."

But the candidates largely avoided direct attacks on one another, preferring to stress their own strengths and qualifications.

The sharpest exchange was sparked by the first question of the morning, when Stephanopoulos played for viewers a recording of an automated phone call by Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) attacking Romney's antiabortion credentials. The call said, in part, that Romney's wife had contributed to Planned Parenthood.

Asked whether he stands by the call, Brownback said, "I certainly do. There's one word that describes [the call] and it's 'truthful.' " A clearly agitated Romney said that "virtually nothing in that ad is true" and added, "The single word I'd use would be 'desperate' or perhaps 'negative.' "

Later, Romney attempted to explain his recent conversion from supporting abortion rights to being antiabortion as sincere, and angrily said that "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have."

The debate took place at Drake University. On Saturday, tens of thousands of hard-core activists will gather in Ames, Iowa, for a summertime straw poll that has historically weeded out the weakest candidates in the Republican field.

A new Washington Post poll of voters in Iowa indicates that the Republican race remains muddled. Romney is leading the race here but his support remains soft. Only 19 percent of Republicans likely to vote in the state's caucuses say they are very satisfied with their choices.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) still has not formally announced his candidacy and did not participate in the debate, but the poll shows him with about the same support in Iowa as Giuliani.

This year, McCain, Giuliani and Thompson are ignoring the straw poll, leaving Romney and the lesser-known candidates to woo GOP activists. In the past several weeks, Brownback, Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee have been engaged in an increasingly nasty spat as each tries to secure a victory on Saturday.


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