After an admonition from Father David O'Connell to "fight nice," two of Catholic University's (search) best-known graduates proceeded to tear into each other over which political party was more responsible for the nasty tone of the presidential campaign.
Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie (search) and Democratic Party Chairman Terry (search) McAuliffe returned to their alma mater Thursday night, got the reminder from O'Connell, the school's president, and then sharply debated how the race for the White House had turned so nasty so soon.
A crowd of more than 1,000 students and alumni watched the hourlong debate on the Catholic campus in northeast Washington.
"There's been a constant stream of attacks," said Gillespie, a member of the Catholic class of '83. "The president's a liar, we're all crooks and liars. College Republicans today, John Kerry (search) has called them the most crooked bunch of liars on campus."
Gillespie was referring to a recent comment Kerry made about Republicans generally that was caught on an open microphone.
McAuliffe, a 1979 graduate, responded that Democrats "continually talk about issues. We talk about jobs, education, health care and Iraq." But he countered that Republicans bring up divisive issues like partial birth abortion and gay marriage.
"Every time this man gets in trouble in the polls he becomes a divider," McAuliffe said about President Bush and referred to past GOP campaign tactics like questioning the patriotism of Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee defeated in the 2002 Senate race in Georgia.
"We are not going to stand by and let them do to Democrats what they did in the past," McAuliffe said.
Gillespie asked McAuliffe if he would repudiate one of his state party chairmen for referring to "George W. Bush and his band of thugs" in an e-mail. McAuliffe said he was unaware of the comments.
"Right out of the box, you're running attack ads and now we're going to have to respond," McAuliffe said of the Bush ad blitz.
As the debate drew to a close, the chairmen seemed to recall the watchful gaze of students, teachers and priests at Catholic University.
"If you want to bring this discourse to a higher level, I'm for it," McAuliffe told Gillespie.
"We want to be role models to all of you," McAuliffe told the students. "We want to talk about the issues."