COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Here's a quick look at what's making political news in South Carolina this morning:
Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney both criticized the Conferederate flag during the debate, which, like it or not, still remains a bit of a flashpoint in South Carolina. Here's what they said.
And Romney added some context to that abortion mail piece he sent out here last week.
Observers here are paying attention to the Palmetto Poll released by Clemson University yesterday.
It shows a larger section of undecideds than other polls, but continues to show a wide-open race among GOP candidates. However, Rudy Giuliani, the one time frontrunner in the state, has fallen to just nine percent, while Mike Huckabee has catapulted to 13 percent.
For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton's once impenetrable lead has all but evaporated. She is at 19 percent, followed by Barack Obama at 17 percent, and John Edwards at 12.
Oh yeah: Open house at the Governor's mansion today!
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) - The skies opened up here in Tampa just an hour before the debate. Florida downpours are usually cleansing and invigorating – washing away the day’s dust and grime, feeding new life into roots and leaves. You know that tomorrow will be greener than today was. But tonight’s storm might have been a metaphor for the latest dark cloud hanging over Rudy Giuliani’s bid for the White House.
Revelations that – as mayor of New York – his office may have hid funds for accommodation and security during the time he was courting then girlfriend/soon to be 3rd wife Judith Nathan in New York’s tony Hamptons.
The disclosure sent a new wave of uncertainty through the media and blog worlds. Was it a dime dropped by an opponent? How might it hurt the man who is campaigning on truth and honesty – if not his personal life, at least in government? Would the other candidates pick up on it?
How it plays may come down to what the current occupant of City Hall, Michael Bloomberg has to say about it.
Regardless, it is exactly what a candidate doesn’t want on the night of a big debate like this one. They want to weave their own narrative. Giuliani was at risk of following the news instead of driving it. He is running on his record as mayor.
He insists that the story “is not true” that nothing improper was done, and that he is not responsible for how expenses were reported. But anything that raises questions about how he used public funds while at the helm of America’s biggest city may reflect on how voters think he will handle the nation’s budget. And with Mitt Romney reinvigorating his drive to box Giuliani out of a win in the early primary states and steamroll his way to victory, the former mayor can’t afford to lose even one step in the few weeks remaining.
- American Morning Anchor John Roberts
Tempers flared at last night's debate.
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) - Perhaps it was the cloudburst that hit St. Petersburg just before the debate, but there was an awful lot of mud around the Mahaffey Theater. And it only took one question for Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney to pick up a handful and start flinging it about.
The question was on immigration and whether – as President – Giuliani would support so-called “sanctuary cities”. Within moments, Giuliani and Romney were at each other – the former mayor accusing the former governor of employing illegal immigrants to landscape his mansion – Romney muttering something about it being unrealistic to ask everyone with a “funny accent” working at your home for their immigration papers.
Not exactly the way to win the Hispanic vote in America.It’s a sign of how close the early primary race has become. Romney is aggressively trying to shut Giuliani out of a win in the first few contests, hoping that the traditional “winner’s bounce” will change voters’ minds in the big super-Tuesday states and propel him to victory.
With little more than a month left before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican candidates are in a full-on rush to illuminate what separates them from their challengers. As uncertain as the race was months ago, it is even moreso now. The debate is about leadership and record. Who has the qualities and the qualifications for the highest office in the land. And while they’re all trying to be different, they’re also attempting to be the same. Who is toughest on immigration, terrorism, inflated spending, taxes. Who best to bring the Republican party back to its core values. Time is running out, and so the rhetoric gets ever hotter.
For the latest, breaking political news, check for updates throughout the day on the CNN Political Ticker http://www.cnn.com/ticker. All politics, all the time.
Making News Today…
Campaign trail rancor carries into GOP debate
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) - The acrimony from the Republican campaign trail carried over quickly into the CNN/YouTube GOP presidential debate Wednesday. Full Story
Thompson launches first negative ad amid GOP street fight
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) - Fred Thompson aired the first negative television ad in the 2008 Republican presidential campaign race, using the CNN/YouTube debate Wednesday to deliver a double broadside against Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Fred Thompson's ad attacked Mitt Romney on abortion and Mike Huckabee on taxes.
With five weeks remaining before the Iowa caucuses, Thompson's video took aim at Romney for changing his position on abortion rights and Huckabee for his past statements on taxes.
Each of the eight GOP candidates was allowed to air a 30-second, YouTube-style campaign commercial during the two-hour debate.
The candidates' criticism of one another is not new - they have been hammering each other for months on the campaign trail. But Thompson took it to a new level by doing so in this nationally televised debate.
The fireworks began well before the ad from the actor and former Tennessee senator was shown, as the pleasantries between the candidates quickly dissolved into a good old-fashioned street fight. Full Story
– By CNN Political Editor Mark Preston
Political Hot Topics
(Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)
Compiled by Lindsey Pope
CNN Washington Bureau
New York Times: G.O.P. Rivals Exchange Jabs in Testy Debate
The Republican presidential candidates engaged in a slashing debate last night over immigration and other issues, confronting one another in testy exchanges that reflected the wide-open nature of the race in the final sprint toward the Iowa caucuses.
Washington Post: In Debate, Romney and Giuliani Clash on Immigration Issues
The Republican candidates for president engaged in a two-hour free-for-all Wednesday night, repeatedly confronting one another directly even as they fielded video questions submitted by Internet users in the most spirited debate of the 2008 presidential campaign.
USA Today: GOP Candidates Spar Over Immigration Issue
Eight Republican presidential contenders clashed Wednesday over immigration, interrogation techniques for prisoners and the Iraq war in a sharp-elbowed debate filled with pointed and personal attacks.
LA Times: Public Questions Inspire Combative Republican Debate
In an animated, fast-paced debate marked by personal attacks between the candidates, Republican presidential hopefuls Wednesday night sparred over illegal immigration, torture, gun control, abortion - and even whether the Bible should be taken literally.
AP: Giuliani Dismisses Report About Expenses
Rudy Giuliani dismissed a report Wednesday that he expensed the cost of his security detail to obscure city offices for trips to a Long Island resort as the then-mayor began an extramarital affair with current wife Judith Nathan.
Des Moines Register: Biden: One Of Top 3 Dems Will Fall
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden expressed confidence today that at least one of the second-tier Democratic candidates — himself included — will finish near the top in the upcoming Iowa caucuses.
Des Moines Register: Romney And Obama Win Mock St. Anselm Primary
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney won a mock presidential primary at St. Anselm College yesterday.
Washington Post: Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him
Since declaring his candidacy for president in February, Obama, a member of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Chicago, has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim or that he had received training in Islam in Indonesia, where he lived from ages 6 to 10.
DC Examiner: Obama First To File For Primaries In Virginia Scheduled For Feb. 12
Democrat Barack Obama became the first candidate to formally file for Virginia’s presidential primaries Wednesday, but the contests are likely scheduled too late to influence the parties’ nominees, political analysts said.
WSJ: Huckabee's Surge Stirs the Pot in Iowa
The Republican presidential race is becoming even more unstable, as a surging Mike Huckabee has caught up in Iowa with Mitt Romney, long seen as the front-runner in the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
AP: GOP Abortion Rights Group Raps Romney
A Republican group that backs abortion rights will start an ad campaign this weekend in Iowa and New Hampshire portraying Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper and drawing attention to a questionnaire he filled out in 2002 endorsing legal abortions.
WSJ: Romney Sons Break a Sweat for Campaign
Mitt Romney's five sons are all involved in his presidential campaign, but having them on the trail is a double-edged sword. They lack their father's polish and occasionally their privileged upbringing inadvertently distances them from the voters they're courting.
Boston Globe: Clinton Denounces Obama's Healthcare Proposal
Hillary Clinton yesterday launched one of her most pointed attacks yet against chief rival Barack Obama, charging that his healthcare plan would leave millions of uninsured Americans "virtually invisible."
USA Today: Bill Clinton Stumbles On Stump For Wife
It was a partial clause in a sentence uttered in Muscatine, Iowa. But Bill Clinton's assertion Monday that he'd opposed the Iraq war "from the beginning" triggered outbursts across the political spectrum.
Chicago Tribune: Clinton: Most famous. Least known?
Despite her fame and power, Clinton keeps in regular touch with the circle of close high school girlfriends she made growing up in Park Ridge back when the Beatles were a new act.
NY Sun: Pastor's Invitation to Clinton Draws Fire From Some Christians
A speaking invitation extended to Senator Clinton by one of the nation's most prominent evangelical preachers and authors, Rick Warren, is drawing fire from conservative Christian groups critical of the Democratic presidential candidate's views on abortion and other social issues.
DC Examiner: Edwards' 'Ticket Wishlist' Kept Secret
When John Edwards returned to his alma mater in 2005 to found a poverty think tank, the multimillionaire attorney sought more than just a salary: He also wanted tickets to University of North Carolina sporting events. But the exact details of what Edwards asked of the Tar Heels remain a secret.
The Plain Dealer: If Kucinich Wins Nomination, Ron Paul Could Be His Veep
Call it the liberal-libertarian ticket, where left meets right and Democrat Dennis Kucinich picks Republican Ron Paul to be his vice president.
New Hampshire Union-Leader: College Convention 2008 Looks At Primary Candidates
Starting yesterday and running through Saturday, nearly every candidate - Democrat, Republican, household name, unknown - will make an appearance, and the young delegates are an eager audience.
New York Times' The Caucus: Democrats Supply Video, You Make the Ad
Here’s yet another example of how the Internet is changing politics: The Democratic National Committee is putting online all the digital video that its “trackers” are recording of the major Republican candidates.
Washington Post: Pulling Their Punch Lines
The great national strategic political comedy reserve has been depleted. Thanks to the TV writers' strike, millions of citizens have been deprived (for 24 days now!) of their late-night dose of sarcasm and slashing wit, of irony and smart-aleck quips. No Letterman, no Leno, no Stewart or Colbert.
New York Times: A Fund-Raising Rainmaker Arises Online
They may not inhabit the traditional world of high-dollar campaign fund-raising, but two youthful computer whizzes are quietly and behind the scenes trying to change how campaigns raise money, netting millions of dollars for Democrats in the process.
New York Times: Senator Turned Lobbyist Sees Job for Pal
Former Senator John B. Breaux of Louisiana, a centrist Democrat, announced on Wednesday that he was leaving the law firm Patton Boggs, where he has worked as a lobbyist since 2005, to form his own firm with a son, John Breaux Jr.
On the Trail:
Compiled by Lauren Kornreich and Katy Byron
CNN Washington Bureau
* Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, attends a global summit on AIDS and the church at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
* Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, meets with the press in St. Petersburg, Florida.
* Former North Carolina John Edwards addresses the Iowa State Association of Counties Fall School of Instruction in Des Moines, Iowa. Later, Edwards delivers remarks to the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council in Iowa City.
* Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, attends a Late Night with Obama event at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
* Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson holds a press conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
* Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, meets with local residents in Concord and Hampton, New Hampshire. Biden also speaks at a town hall forum focusing on Iraq at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth.
* Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, campaigns in South Carolina.
* New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson holds an interactive dialogue with the media and special guests at the International Immigrants Foundation in New York City.
* Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado, attends a house party in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
* The Senate Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery Daybook
* The House Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery Daybook
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) - During Wednesday night's CNN-YouTube debate retired brigadier general Keith Kerr, posed a powerful question about gays in the military. The general had been invited to attend the debate and was given an opportunity to address whether his question was answered.
Following the debate, CNN learned that Kerr was listed as a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans For Hillary Clinton Steering Committee.
CNN Senior Vice President and Executive Producer of the debate, David Bohrman, says, "We regret this, and apologize to the Republican candidates. We never would have used the General's question had we known that he was connected to any presidential candidate."
Prior to the debate, CNN had verified his military background and that he had not contributed any money to any presidential candidate.
Following the debate, Kerr told CNN that he's done no work for the Clinton campaign. He says he is a member of the Log Cabin Republicans and was representing no one other than himself.