MANCHESTER, N.H. — We’re live from the campus of Saint Anselm College, where the ABC News/Facebook/WMUR debates are taking place this evening. Our live blog of the first debate is after the jump.
8:43 p.m. | As promised, Charles Gibson brings the Democrats out on stage to have a group pow-wow with the Republican candidates. They’re smiling! Hillary and Rudy are talking to each other! So endearing. And now, to the spin room. The Democratic debate is in 15 minutes.
8:30 p.m. | Huckabee praises Obama and warns the GOP about something that many believe has hurt the Democratic Party in recent years — not having a platform to stand on, but merely trying to oppose the other side. “If we don’t give people something to be for and not just something to be against, we’re going to lose that next election,” he said.
8:28 p.m. | Giuliani just assailed Obama for his lack of experience, right after Romney assailed McCain for leaning on experience as a reason to vote for him. Rudy admitted Obama is a candidate of change but wondered whether that necessarily was a positive. “Is it change for good?” he asked. “Changing and having higher taxes, in my view, would be very bad for our economy.” Same with socialized medicine, he said.
8:27 p.m. | John McCain just broke in to comment on Romney’s “change” spiel. “We disagree about a lot of issues,” McCain said, “but you are the candidate of change.” Zing! The press ate that one up, that’s for sure. Perhaps the longest “oooooh!” of the night.
8:25 p.m. | Romney just used the word “change” about 75 times in one 30-second snippet in an apparent effort to ride on Obama’s coattails. Thompson has accused Obama of being a dreaded liberal. “They want to take us down the road of the welfare state,” he said.
8:13 p.m. | We’re now debating immigration reform, and whether or not John McCain supports amnesty. Mitt Romney is going on the offensive. McCain just had the best response of the night, regarding Romney’s amnesty claim: “You can spend your whole fortune on attack ads,” he said, “but that doesn’t make it true.”
8:01 p.m. | Commercial break. Half of the room just got up and ran for the tables of food in the back. “Want a cookie?” a reporter nearby asked his colleague. “I’d actually like an Internet connection,” he responded.
8:00 p.m. | Romney: “Don’t turn the pharmaceutical industry into the bad guy.” McCain shoots back: “They are.”
7:57 p.m. | In a long discussion on health care costs, Romney asked other candidates, point blank, if a person making $100,000 — and who decides not to buy private health insurance — should be able to go into a hospital and demand the government pay for, say, a $1,000 procedure. “With all due respect,” Huckabee just said, “it’s about $1,000 for a Kleenex.” He’s exaggerating, but he’s right. This might not be as significant as TK not knowing the price of milk, but it doesn’t look good.
7:53 p.m. | “I like mandates,” Mitt Romney said. Take that out of context.
7:48 p.m. | Spoke too soon. Hopefully we’re back for good now.
7:33 p.m. | The Internet is back! Rejoice!
7:29 p.m. | “I could go on and on,” Giuliani said, of terrorist attacks. Does he have them all memorized?
7:25 p.m. | Odd: there are at least four or five camera crews that are not filming the debate, but rather the reporters sitting here watching the debate. One is very intense, lying on the floor, leaning over reporters, doing all sorts of things that will surely garner great recognition at Sundance, or something.
7:24 p.m. | If nothing else, the press buffet is outstanding. It easily matches the average Yale Dining Services meal in, say, the dining hall of Morse or Ezra Stiles College.
7:16 p.m. | We estimated more than 500 reporters have been packed into the media filing center here. That was an impressive sight. Then, at around 6:55 p.m., the Internet crashed. Now, it is a scary sight. There are few situations more tense than a room full of journalists — many with blogs to tend to — suddenly without Internet access.
7:15 p.m. | We have the first dig at Bill Clinton of the evening, courtesy of Rudy Giuliani.
7:13 p.m. | Fred Thompson just said we are in a global war with Islam. Like, the whole religion?
7:09 p.m. | Charles Gibson asked the candidates to think of the stage as a “semi-circular dining-room table.” I thought one wasn’t supposed to talk about politics at dinner parties. (Or religion, for that matter — Huckabee could be in trouble.)
6:58 p.m. | First pseudo-celebrity sighting of the evening: Walter Shapiro of Salon is in the house. Shapiro — who loves the New Hampshire primary as if it were his firstborn — visited Sean Smith’s “Modern Political Campaign” seminar at Yale earlier this fall.
— Thomas Kaplan