Sparks flew between the leading presidential candidates of both parties during the Saturday “fight night” debate doubleheader just three days before New Hampshire’s January 8 primary.
Hillary Clinton took shots at Barack Obama over healthcare during the Democratic debate and John McCain and Mitt Romney sparred over immigration in the GOP standoff at St. Anselm College in Manchester. And, in both of these arguments a third candidate couldn’t help but jump into the fight.
On January 3, GOP candidate Mike Huckabee and Obama left the Hawkeye state with a significant wins over their opponents. According to New Hampshire polls, however, Democrats Clinton and Obama are running nearly neck-in-neck and Republican McCain leads former Massachusetts Romney.
Iowa exit polls showed that Democratic voters indicated that “change,” a characteristic often attributed to Obama, was more important to them than “experience,” a trait Clinton has pitched to voters again and again. Debate moderator and ABC News Anchor Charles Gibson asked the two candidates to discuss “change” and “experience” which led to a discussion on their differences on universal healthcare plans.
Clinton accused Obama of changing position on the issues and said that “He could have a pretty good debate with himself.”
Obama didn’t retaliate to Clinton’s jab, but John Edwards did. Edwards, who beat Clinton in Iowa with a second place finish, interjected that Clinton was attacking Obama because because she was a sore loser. “"I didn't see this kind of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead. Now that's she's not, we hear them, anytime you speak out for change, this is what happens,” Edwards said. Then, he said Clinton was aligned with the “forces of status quo.”
Clinton retorted angrily, “Making change is not about what you believe or what you say, it's about working hard.” She said loudly, "I want to make change, but I've already made change. I'm not running on the promise of change. But on 35 years of change.”
The tension was so thick that long-shot candidate and former United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson noted, “I've been in hostile negotiations that are a lot more civil than this."
In the Republican debate, McCain and Romney sparred over immigration. Since immigration hawk Tom Tancredo has dropped out of the presidential race, he has been supporting Romney on the hot-button issue. Earlier that day Tancredo and Romney held a press conference to criticize McCain’s record on immigration policy.
The Romney campaign has also been running ads in New Hampshire that criticize McCain’s record on immigration policy.
During the debate Romney suggested McCain supported “amnesty.”
“It's not amnesty,'' McCain told the multimillionaire Romney. “And for you to describe it as you do in the attack ads, my friend, you can spend your whole fortune on these attack ads, but it will won't be true.''
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani later jumped in. “Ronald Reagan did amnesty. He actually did amnesty,” Giuliani said reminding everyone of former President Reagan’s 1986 amnesty program.
“I think he'd be in one of Mitt's negative commercials,” Giuliani quipped.