Mike Huckabee chatted with the press in the spin room after Wednesday's debate.
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA (CNN) - The debate's over, but the-post game action is just beginning. The media and the bloggers are flocking to the “spin room”, where surrogates from the campaigns tell anyone who will listen why their candidate won the debate.
The spin room here at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg is packed right now, like a crowded dance floor. Off to the left, Rep. Peter King, R-New York, is boasting of Rudy Giuliani's performance. A few yards away, former Virginia senator (and one-time presidential hopeful) George Allen is describing how Fred Thompson came out on top tonight.
You rarely see the top tier candidates in the spin room, although the B-listers often make appearances. But right now former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee bucking that tradition by holding court. He says it’s a good sign for his campaign that the other candidates felt the need to go after him.
Off to the side, a smaller scrum of reporters and bloggers is talking to Rep. Duncan Hunter, who says he performed well tonight.
And so it goes in the spin room.
–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser
(CNN) - High school seniors and I-Reporters from Smithtown High School East in St. James, New York can't vote - yet. They will vote for the first time next November. But, they are already riffing on the candidates and issues, like racism and immigration, with no filter.
- CNN Anchor Nicole Lapin
(CNN) - The issue of healthcare has sparked some of the most heated debate this campaign season on the Democratic front, but the Republican presidential contenders seemed to all but ignore what is considered a major priority for many voters.
Recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polls show healthcare reform is consistently at the forefront of voter concerns along with the war in Iraq and the economy.
Candidates often find a way to include their talking points and campaign priorities in debate answers regardless of what the question posed to them actually is. Since no question was posed to the candidates about their healthcare reform plans, they all but ignored the issue choosing instead to emphasize their stances on illegal immigration and the war in Iraq.
–CNN's Emily Sherman
Chuck Norris greeted members of the audience prior to Wednesday's debate.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Cult hero and avid Mike Huckabee supporter Chuck Norris watched the CNN/YouTube debate from a front-row seat Wednesday night at the Mahaffey Theater at Progress Energy Center for the Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Norris, the star of "Walker, Texas Ranger," released a television ad supporting the former Arkansas governor for president last week.
–CNN Political Assignment Editor Katy Byron
(CNN) - Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee brought out his fatherly instinct in Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube debate when asked about the government dipping into Social Security funds to quell massive budget deficits.
"One of the things I would do for his generation is protect it from our generation," Thompson said. A new father himself, Thompson continued over audience applause to say, "We are spending the money of kids yet to be born."
In reference to Social Security, Thompson added, "Pretty soon it will be out of money. It will go bankrupt … we can't wait and let our grandkids and children, depending on how old they are, solve the problems we left them."
In Thompson's view, the pressing deficit issue is not only a fiscal issue, but also a moral issue.
–CNN's Emily Sherman
(CNN) - In two hours of heated exchanges among the eight men vying to take over his job, there was barely a mention of the man himself. In the CNN/YouTube Republican debate Wednesday night, no candidate directly referred to President Bush.
Though there were no questions to any of the candidates directly related to Bush or his record, two candidates did make passing reference to the current two-term Republican president.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani referred to Bush on an issue related to the economy and then Sen. John McCain of Arizona referred to the president in an answer regarding the power of the vice presidency.
Despite the lack of mention of Bush, the candidates did manage to mention Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, former President Ronald Reagan, and movie character King Kong.
- CNN Political Producer Xuan Thai
(CNN) - In a powerful moment in the home-stretch of the CNN/YouTube debate, Keith Kerr, a 43-year military veteran and retired general, who announced he was gay after retitiring from the military, asked the GOP candidates why they think "American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians?"
Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee both said that openly homosexual individuals in the military would create problems with troop morale and unit cohesion.
When Romney was pressed by moderator Anderson Cooper about whether he looks forward to a time when gays can serve openly in the military, as he said he did in 1994, Romney dodged the question.
"I can listen to the people on the military to see what the circumstances are like," Romney said.
Kerr took specific issue with Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who said, "most kids who leave that breakfast table who go out to serve in the military and break that corporate decision with the family, most are conservative and have conservative values and Judeo-Christian values. And to force those people to have a small, tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual, who goes against what they believe to be their principles, and it is their principles, is I think a disservice to them."
When asked by Anderson Cooper if he received adequate answers to his question, Kerr responded that he had not, and said, "What Congressman Hunter is talking about, that they simply they happen to be gay. We are talking about doctors, nurses, pilots and surgeons who sew somebody up when they are taken from the battlefield."
In the middle of Kerr's response, his microphone cut out briefly, which only added to the heat of the moment as the St. Petersburg audience booed Kerr while he was speaking.
- CNN 's Natalie Apsell and Lauren Kornreich
UPDATE: CNN later learned that retired brigadier general Keith Kerr served on Clinton's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender steering committee.
CNN Senior Vice President and Executive Producer of the debate, David Bohrman, says, "We regret this incident. CNN would not have used the General's question had we known that he was connected to any presidential candidate."
(CNN) - African-American voter David McMillan of Los Angeles, California, wanted to know why, despite relatively conservative positions on many social issues, blacks tend not to vote for Republicans.
"We probably haven't done a good enough job of pointing out that our solutions, our philosophy, is really the philosophy that would be the most attractive to the overwhelming majority of people in the African-American and Hispanic community," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani responded.
"Whether they are upper-middle class, rich, middle class or poor, good education is something that everyone in all these communities - and all communities - want," he said. He went on to mention several of his proposed education reforms.
"... There are many, many issues on which we can reach out," he concluded.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee cited a CNN exit poll that said 48 percent of African-American voters had voted for him in an election in Arkansas.
"Here's the reason why: because I asked for their vote, and I didn't wait until October of the election year to do it," he said.
Huckabee said he worked at making his administration inclusive in appointments, employment and programs.
"Our party had better reach out, not just to African-Americans but to Hispanics and to all people of this country," he warned. "I don't want to be a part of a Republican Party that is a tiny, minute and ever-decreasing party, but one that touches every American from top to bottom regardless of race."
Four Republican candidates - Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Sen. John McCain - declined to participate in a September debate at historically black Morgan State University in Maryland. Huckabee said he was "embarrassed" for his party.
- CNN's Jim Kavanagh
(CNN) - I-Reporter 67-year-old Nancy Kolger of Richmond, Indiana, responds to the CNN/YouTube Debate format:
"As a Senior Citizen I am really disappointed that not one question was asked about Health Care and rising Drug Costs for all the people. I can send you an email response and/or question but I do not know how to take or send a video or download and all that other stuff that younger people do. So therefore I was not given the chance to ask a question and I feel this is a form of discrimination or else lack of CNN taking the time to scan through emails as they have obviously done with videos.
Next time I hope you will consider the fact that a lot of the citizens/voters of this country do not know how to use all this modern stuff and it would be nice if you just had a Senior Citizen debate with the candidates and I bet some really good questions besides, wars, gun control, immigration, abortion, gays, etc, would come forth, like health care, drug expenses, gas prices, feeding, clothing, and housing the elderly, more American jobs, etc."
- CNN.com Anchor Nicole Lapin
(CNN) - As was the first question of the night, the last question of the YouTube Republican Presidential debate went to Rudy Giuliani. The question brought up another well known rivalry.
In his YouTube Video, Chris Krul of Bonita Springs, Fla. asked, "Giuliani, can you explain why, you being a lifelong Yankees fan, that this year after the Yankees lost everything, you rooted for the Red Sox in the post season? Can you explain that position for me?"
The former mayor of New York explained that he was foremost an American League fan.
"I root for the American League team when they get into the World Series. I have done it for 50 years. I actually rooted for the Red Sox, I can't help it."
Giuliani did continue to add the Yankee's record with him as mayor.
"When I was mayor of New York City, the Yankees won four world championships...And since I have left being mayor of New York City, the Yankees have won none."
As seen throughout the night with Giuliani, Romney weighed in on this issue.
"87 long years we waited. 87 long years and true suffering Red Sox fans that my family and I are, we could not have been more happy than to see the Red Sox win the World Series except by being able to beat the Yankees when they were ahead three games to none.
- CNN's Jonathan Helman