The Republicans debate

And the winner is ... Barack Obama.

Published August 6, 2007 11:49AM (EDT)

The winner of Sunday's Republican presidential debate in Iowa? Barack Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, who responded to the Republicans' criticism of Obama's vow to take action against "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan with or without the help of President Pervez Musharraf by saying that the GOP candidates "want to keep 160,000 American troops in the middle of a civil war" but "couldn't agree that we should take out Osama bin Laden if we had him in our sights."

As for the rest of the pack:

Abortion: Responding to an automated phone call in which Sam Brownback challenges his antiabortion bona fides, Mitt Romney declared that he was for abortion rights before he was against them. "I was pro-choice," he said. "I am pro-life." When Brownback pointed to a 1994 video clip on YouTube in which Romney says, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country," Romney said: "Ah, that's the -- consider the source." A moment later, however, Romney himself pointed to the YouTube video and explained, "I never said I was pro-choice, but my position was effectively pro-choice."

Iraq: Except for Ron Paul, who said that the United States should be able "come back" from the war just as easily as we "marched in," the GOP candidates generally advocated staying the course in Iraq. Although even the president's military men now seem reluctant to say that the United States is "winning" in Iraq, John McCain saw fit to declare, "We are winning, we must win, and we will not set a date for surrender, as the Democrats want us to do." Duncan Hunter complained that in "the Democrat debate," "not a single Democrat candidate paused in their rush for the exit to say to our Marines, 'Good job. You guys are fighting and achieving, with blood, sweat and tears, what this country needs.' In fact, in the most recent Democratic debate, each of the three leading Democratic candidates offered words of praise or thanks to the troops serving in Iraq.

Iraq, again: When Ron Paul noted that "neoconservatives promoted [the war against Iraq] many, many years before it was started," that there was "no al-Qaida in Iraq" before the war, that there were "no weapons of mass destruction," and that the same people who now predict disaster if we leave Iraq predicted the war would be "duck soup" in the beginning, McCain interrupted him -- twice -- to ask, "Have you forgotten about 9/11?"

Dick Cheney: Having witnessed what can happen when a president gives his understudy more power than usual, McCain made it clear that he'd relegate his vice president back to the "bucket of warm piss" department. "A vice president brings a certain area of expertise and talent," he said. "I would probably assign [to the vice president] some of those areas, like telecommunications or some other important issues."

Correction: Our transcription service attributes -- with a question mark -- the "Have you forgotten about 9/11?" question to McCain. A review of the videotape, however, shows that Romney was the one who asked it.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz. Mitt Romney