Free Trade and Low Taxes Star in Republican Debate

Talking before yesterday's GOP debate in suburban Detroit are, from left, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Fred D. Thompson and Rudolph W. Giuliani. (By Kiichiro Sato -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

DEARBORN, Mich., Oct. 9 -- On a day when stock indexes hit record highs, Republican presidential candidates gathered here Tuesday for a group defense of low taxes and free markets and warned that Democrats, particularly Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, pose the greatest danger to the nation's future prosperity.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) finally joined his rivals in a televised debate, adding his voice to the chorus singing the praises of free trade, a reduction in regulation, private health care and reduced government spending. Like the others on the stage, he made his points by taking aim at the opposition party.

"When the Democrats start targeting the rich guy, if you're a middle-class guy you ought to run to the other side of the house, because you're going to get hit," Thompson said. The former "Law & Order" star appeared nervous as the debate began but seemed to grow more comfortable by the end of the two-hour event.

"I've enjoyed watching these fellas," he said when asked if he enjoyed himself. "I gotta admit it was getting a little boring without me."

The week-long spat between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani spilled from the campaign trail onto the stage, with each accusing the other of failing to keep taxes low and to control spending.

Romney accused Giuliani of supporting a commuter tax in New York, prompting an annoyed Giuliani to retort that "the point is that you've got to control taxes. But I did it; he didn't. . . . Under him, taxes went up 11 percent per capita. I led; he lagged."

Romney refused to let the jab go by without a response, saying: "It's baloney. Mayor, you've got to check your facts. . . . I did not increase taxes in Massachusetts."

Clinton (N.Y.), the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, became a frequent target throughout the debate, as the leading Republicans competed to demonstrate their readiness to challenge her in a general-election contest.

Giuliani accused Clinton of being weak because she did not answer a question at a Democratic debate about the use of military action to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability. "Well, you've got to answer the question. The answer is yes, we would. Iran is a greater danger than Iraq."

Giuliani also accused the Democratic front-runner of economic pessimism, saying she favors "endless ways to spend" taxpayers' money and threatens the U.S. health-care system with her reform proposal. In a quip toward the end of the debate, he said, "I think there's a looming problem with Canada that you missed. If we do Hillary-care or socialized medicine, Canadians will have no place to go to get their health care."

Romney was even more aggressive in challenging Clinton's health-care plan, though in broad outlines it resembles the measure approved in Massachusetts while he was governor.

"The way we improve something is not by putting more government into it -- of course, that's what Hillary Clinton wants to do," he said. "Hillary-care is government gets in and tells people what to do from the federal government's standpoint."

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