GOP Presidential Debate: The LIVE Blog

5:52 PM: Looks like my last post for now. Final thoughts are these: I think Giuliani came out best. Huckabee had some good moments in the beginning, but faded a bit later in the debate. Romney, okay but not great, though he just got a big laugh at Thompson's expense. As for Fred, okay, no big gaphs but the lackluster charge against him seems real. Paul remained the gadlfy and Tancredo was one note (immigration). And McCain--he seemed somewhat invisible.

5:48 PM: Some boos from the audience toward Paul, when he made his point about not supporting the Republican nominee if our policies don't change--Iraq mostly. A bit of a tough crowd on Iraq, at least toward the back here.

5:45 PM: It's been fun blogging folks. In case I have to stop for the TV crew to set up where I am, we'll certainly follow up right here tomorrow. There's post debate talk on CNBC after the debate, so don't miss that after reading this!

5: 43 PM: We're on the home stretch. Health care is back as a topic. S-CHIP is the question, that's the childern's government health plan that Dems and some Republicans want to expand and George Bush vetoed. Huckabee wouldn't really say if he'd veto it if HE was president. Some applause for his line about the need for private health care.

5: 38 PM: A "tense" moment when Chris Matthews said Fred Thompson should have just stopped with his answer of no about if the government should step in to stop a strike against Chrysler. Just a little tense, not much really when Thompson tried to make light of it with a response. TV break time. Last one. Audience standing, talking. Candidates talking, standing.

5:37 PM: Ah, it's not just me losing my hearing. McCain asked for a question to be repeated, cause he couldn't hear it. He said he's against government subsidies for ethanol. McCain mentioned Ronald Reagan--first time anyone did--and got a few hand claps.

5:34 PM: Rudy G. says people should have a right to join a union or not. Congressman Hunter says we need to work with unions, Brownback says yes to unions and talks about his mother as a union member--but wants over sight. Congressman Tancredo: he says you can pretty much forget unions--because they can affect public policy, like dare he say it, illegal immigration.

5:31 PM: Unions are the topic right now. Congressman Paul seems to favor them, Huckabee gave a yes, but kind of no answer, as did McCain. So did Romney: "some good unions out there and some bad ones. Of course I'm not going to name the bad ones." Got a laugh on that one. Any union members here?? Must be at least one or two or more.

5: 27 PM: Hillary attack again, this time from Romney. He's saying his health care plan is better. Romney says his plan is cheaper and would have private insurance instead of government insurance.

5: 25 PM: Social Security is the issue now. Thompson saying we have to do some things, like having a growing economy and lower taxes to help solve the "problem" of ss. Again, his mike seems a bit muddled and unclear. I'll stop writing about that. I've made my point.

5: 20 PM: Another TV commercial break. Just before, Tancredo talked about how illegal immigration is at the root of so many problems in the U.S. Rudy G. now signing autographs for the crowd. Maria B, John H., and Gerald S., huddling together for a minute as Chris Mattews also signed an autograph or two. Break about to end. Some 35 minutes left in the debate and still waiting for the "fireworks" to fly.

5:16 PM: Strong and optimistic America, that's what Rudy G. says we need. More Hillary talk, from him on health care and how her new plan "will cost more than the last one." Got a minor chuckle from audience.

5:12 PM: So far, no debater has had to be told, cut it short. They seem to have the format down well. Paul is talking about changing foreign policy and how bad it is to give subsidies for ethanol production. McCain is talking about cutting wasteful government spending. He says Americans want straight talk. Romney says be confident, and stop talking gloom and doom about the economy. Another Hillary mention--Romney did it on health care. Minor rumbling from audience but no cries of "down with Hillary."

5:10 PM: Thompson made a joke, but I couldn't hear him. Maybe it's his microphone, but he's hard to hear in the theatre. He's talking oil and the Middle East from what I can make out.

5:07 PM: I miss the crowd cheering or applauding. At least it gave the place a little life. Oh, there's a few claps after McCain talked about oil. Darn, the claps died quickly.

5:05 PM: Rudy G. dominating the time right now. Oil exploration off the coast of Florida is the topic. Brownback answers as well, saying we need to do what's necessary to get oil--but only when it's environmentally sound he says. He also said we need to get electricity as more of a power source. Tancredo seems to say, drill away.

5 PM: Oh boy, it's Hillary time. The first mention of Sen. Hillary Clinton's name and it came from Chris Matthews in a question to Rudy G. about Iran and taking a strong position on their nuclear power. I thought the crowd might boo at hearing her name, but it came and passed. Rudy seemed to attack Paul more than Hillary over the idea of keeping the U.S. safe.

4:57 PM: Oooh, Congressman Paul hit Romney hard on the idea of having lawyers tell the president about whehter he has the power to attack Iran. Meanwhile, Huckabee says the U.S. should do what it needs to do to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

4:55 PM: Now it's Iran and what to "do" with them. Romney saying we should hope that we don't have to take military action against Iran, but not rule it out. I can't spell the president of Iran's name correctly so I won't try, but when his name was mentioned by Romney, it got a few chuckles in the audience.

4:52 PM: Mmm...this debate may be about economics but the Iraq talk is capturing the attention of the audience here, I'd say.

4:50 PM: McCain now talking about Iraq. He threw a kind word toward Rudy G and 9/11. You get the feeling these two guys like each other or have some mutual respect. Ron Paul saying the Iraq war is disaster and saying we have to change our foreign policy if we want to have prosperity at home.

4:46 PM: Back from TV break. Matthews asked about Iraq. How did that get in there? I thought this was all about economics. Oh well. Thompson is answering and saying the U.S. has to do what's necessary to defend itself.

4:43 PM: Interesting to see Rudy G. and John McCain exchange a few words (pleasantly) just now during the TV break. The candidates are off stage, getting some makeup touch up and some water. Crowd standing up and talking amongst themselves. Hard to tell who the crowd likes but they do seem to listening intently.

4:40 PM: AMT (altermative minimum tax) issue now on the "floor." Thompson saying lowering taxes improves the economy. He says it should be phased out--index it for inflation. Okay, first TV commercial break right now.

4:36 PM: Trade dominating this part of debate, all pretty much saying we have to maintain "doing" business with other nations. Crowd listening pretty quietly. All I hear are the camera shutters going off from the press.

4:34 PM: Rudy talking trade, saying we can't stop doing business with other nations. Just a side note: I see that Thompson is the tallest candidate by far and Tancredo the shortest.

4:30 PM: Tancredo talking about illegal immigration, his pet policy and got some applause on the line about taking some action. Romney talking trade. He's a business man and says he knows what works. He says agreements have to be to "our benefits." He's taking on the Chinese a bit with currency issue. Bringing up his Michigan roots.

4: 28 PM: Finally we're hearing from some of the others. Honestly, there are too many people on the stage to get a real sense of what's going on. When someone talks, the other candidates listen, but you can tell they're really waiting to talk themselves.

4:26 PM: Thompson talking now but as he was, Rudy G was looking under the lecturne for something. A cell phone, for a call from his wife? Nope, bottle of water. What did Thompson say?

4:21 PM: Giuliani talking about what he's done--cutting taxes here, there and everywhere. Romney "attacking" Giuliani saying Rudy helped take away the line item veto in New York state. Okay, here we go with a little tension between Romney and Rudy G. Crowd a little more attentive at this point. Baloney---says Romney about Giuliani saying Mitt raised taxes in Mass as governor. These guys are getting all the air time. What about the others?? It's getting a bit funny now.

4:19 PM: Brownback saying Republicans and Democrats need to get spending under control. Take the base closing formula to government agencies. Tancredo taking oath of no new taxes in his administration. Audience seems interested in responses but there's no real excitement in the air as far as I can tell.

4:17 PM: Hunter's attack about trade and jobs got a few people excited. Thompson's voice seems week when he talks and somewhat muddled. Hard to really understand what he's saying. He's now saying we can't turn back on free trade. Maria telling audience not to applaud. (I told you so)

4:15 PM: Huckabee answering his question with what seems a smooth and confident response. His days as a pastor have given him a good delivery. Not sure if audience really responding to what he says.

4:12 PM: McCain attacking spending and the S-CHIP program's plan to tax cigarettes. A few "amens" to that from the audience. This is a crowd that loves a tax cut for sure.

4:10 PM: Mild applause for Ron Paul's response about how the government over spends. He brought in the Iraq war--a theme for him in past debates--and how it's a wrong policy.

4:07 PM: Giuliani answering now--attacking Dems for over spending, over taxing and saying he's not a prognosticator: A reference from that to his New York Yankees losing got some mild laughs, nothing more.

4:05 PM: Romney answering question about economy--says we have to do better job of keeping taxes down--big applause on line that Democrats would tax the debate--joke there that got a lively response.

4:03 PM: Maria B. and Chris Matthews do the TV welcome. Now it's time for the first question--from Maria. It's whether the country is going into a recession and it goes to Fred Thompson. He says there's no reason to think the economy is bad. But wow, he kind of stumbled there--a bit of a pause. Not exactly an energetic response.

4 PM: It's officially on--the debate. Here's the order on stage from left to right from the audience: Paul, Huckabee, McCain, Romney, Thompson, Giuliani, Hunter, Brownback, Tancredo. TV intro from Dylan Ratigan playing over loud speaker. Small applause on the stock market. Stage director shouting countdown till debate comes on TV.

3:59 PM: Candidates standing on stage, looking a little tense, as if they are waiting for something to happen. It's picture taking time. Now they head to their lecturnes. Crowd sits.

3:58 PM: I realize my watch is a little fast so, my timing might be off when I say 3:55. Okay, here they are on stage. The candidates come out and stop in front of the audience on stage. Crowd standing and applauding. Candidates waving.

3:56 PM: Maria B. and Chris M. on the stage, saying hello and talking about the purpose of the debate--economic issues. John H. and Gerald S. saying the same. Now they move off stage left.

3:55 PM: Three TV breaks. People can't applaud or break out in support of their candidate. Fat chance of that.

3:45 PM: Okay, still nothing. People just milling around. No more candidate's wives have walked past me. Oh wait, someone's calling our attention on the stage. More welcomes. Mention Michigan and the crowd comes alive.

3:42 PM: Nothing going on right now. The stage is empty except for the candidate's lecterns at which they'll stand. Crowd just kind of buzzing amongst themselves--waiting for the debate to begin. Here come the panelists, John Harwood and Gerald Seib. A small applause (must be family). They will be in the orchestra pit facing the stage as will Chris Matthews and Maria B.

Rudy G's wife just passed me, saying hello, as if I knew her (I don't). She thanked me for being here. You're welcome, Judith.

3:40 PM: Now the anthem. Sung very nicely. Loud applause from the crowd.

3:35 PM: A men's chorus is on stage singing "God Bless America" and they're about to sing the national anthem. Ooops--second verse of the song--crowd singing along. Anthem has to wait.

3:30 PM: Hello and welcome to the LIVE blog of the GOP presidential debate here in Dearborn, Michigan. I'm Mark Koba, senior editor for blogs at I'm guest blogging for John Harwood who is one of the panelists this afternoon, asking the questions.

The nine contenders for the nomination are to answer questions about the nation's economy. John and Gerald Seib of the WSJ will ask most of the questions, while MSNBC's Chris Matthews and CNBC's Maria Bartiromo will moderate the debate.

The audience is almost full--a few seats are not filled--a little surprising, honestly.

The intros and welcomes to the audience are going on. It seems like an enthusiastic crowd from where I sit--in the balcony of the 1,200 seat theatre. I've got a pretty good view.

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