Buoyant Huckabee shines in Republican debate

Having gatecrashed the Republican presidential contest, Mike Huckabee last night outshone his seven rivals in a TV debate marked by bitter exchanges over immigration.

The former Arkansas governor has used a combination of compassionate conservatism and charm to surge forward from back of the field in recent weeks without having to face the same degree of scrutiny of other leading candidates.

The latest opinion polls suggest that he has edged ahead of Mitt Romney to take first place in Iowa, where the nominating process will begin on January 3.

Campaigning on a hard-edged platform of being an “authentic conservative” on social issues by opposing abortion and gay marriage, this ordained Baptist minister demonstrated his softer side in an early clash with Mr Romney who had branded him a “liberal” on immigration.

“We’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did – we’re a better country than that,” said Mr Huckabee as he defended a plan to give students born to illegal immigrants access to college scholarship schemes.

Mr Romney also had a bitter personal exchange with Rudy Giuliani, the frontrunner in national opinion polls, on that same issue of immigration which is becoming a touchstone for Republicans in this election.

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