Romney and Giuliani debate turns sour during clash over taxation

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The leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romley and Rudi Giuliani, tried to out-bid each other for the conservative vote yesterday while clashing over taxation and spending cuts.

The harsh tone during their debate reflected the quickening tempo of the campaign as the January primaries draw closer. Fred Thompson, the latest entry into the Republican race, was left on the sidelines .

Most candidates loudly proclaimed support for President Bush's Iraq policies – in particular the military surge. However, Ron Paul received loud applause when he objected, revealing that the war is as unpopular among some Republicans as among Democrats. Mr Paul recently saw his campaign donations surge dramatically to $5m (£2.5m) for the three months ending September 30 on the back of his anti-war rhetoric.

The clash between Mr Giuliani and Mr Romney – began when they were asked to discuss their economic policies.

"I cut taxes 23 times, I believe in tax cuts," said the former New York City Mayor Guiliani. Mr Romney – a former governor of Massachusetts – sharply criticised Mr Guiliani for using the courts to try and block former President Bill Clinton from using his veto to block spending measures. He boasted that he had used his own veto 844 times in his role as Governor of Massachusetts.

Mr Romney is leading the polls in Iowa, where the first contest of the 2008 campaign takes place in January. He and Mr Giuliani are level in New Hampshire, the first primary state.

Mr Giuliani said that spending fell in New York when he was Mayor, but while Mr Romney was Governor of Massachusetts it rose. "The point is that you've got to control taxes. I did, he didn't," he said.

"It's all baloney," Mr Romney retorted. "I did not increase taxes, I lowered taxes." During the two-hour debate, all nine candidates stressed their low-tax economic credentials.

"We have to get spending under control," said Senator Sam Brownback, "the system is built to spend." Senator John McCain urged President Bush to reject multi-billion dollar public works programmes.

The Republicans also attacked the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, for proposing tax cuts of a thousand dollars to help families start pensions.

"Hillary is filled with endless ways to spend," Mr Giuliani said. "We're going to have to control that."