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  •   Forbes Challenges Rivals to Keep Right

    Steve Forbes
    State Rep. Julie Brown greets presidential hopeful Steve Forbes Tuesday in Concord, N.H. (AP)
    By Dan Balz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, March 17, 1999; Page A8

    CONCORD, N.H., March 16 -- Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes launched his second campaign for president today by challenging his rivals for the Republican nomination to join him in a no-tax pledge and calling on the party not to abandon "Ronald Reagan's plank" opposing abortion.

    Forbes signaled his intention to compete for the votes of hard-core conservative Republican primary voters by appealing to both economic and social conservatives within the party, and to run to the right of more establishment-oriented candidates such as Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole. But the wealthy magazine publisher also sought to cast himself as a political outsider against the party establishment.

    "This will be a citizens' campaign," Forbes told a small group of supporters outside the New Hampshire state Capitol. "I am the only one who is not beholden to the Washington culture, special-interest lawyers, lobbyists and lifetime politicians. It's time to get the government back in the hands of the American people and once again have a government we can be proud of, not ashamed of."

    Forbes, whose self-financed candidacy and negative television ads briefly shook up the 1996 GOP nomination contest, returned today to the issue that provided the energy for his first campaign: scrapping the federal income tax and replacing it with a flat tax.

    But in the face of criticism that the plan favored the wealthy over the middle class, and investors over workers, Forbes said he would give every taxpayer the choice of his plan or the current system. "I think 99 percent will choose the new simple system rather than the corrupt, incomprehensible old system," he said. "I trust the people."

    As he spoke, Forbes was greeted by a small band of protesters. Some held hand-lettered signs that read, "Tax cuts for me, not my maid." Others chanted, "The workers pay the tax so investors can relax."

    "Some people need remedial education," Forbes said of the demonstrators.

    With a flourish, Forbes signed the no-tax pledge that has been a staple of presidential politics for years in New Hampshire, which has neither an income tax nor a state sales tax. But faced with a school finance crisis, the state legislature is considering enactment of a state income tax.

    "There will always be pressure, always be excuses, for imposing more burdens on the people of New Hampshire," he said. "And in Washington, they always have excuses on why they must impose more burdens. . . . Therefore it is absolutely important for every candidate for every office, whether on national level or state level or local level, to sign this pledge."

    Forbes, who ran into opposition in 1996 from religious and social conservatives who viewed him as insufficiently antiabortion, did not dwell on the divisive issue in his remarks today, but has said the issue is more important than tax cuts. Today he told his audience, "The Republican Party must not tamper with Ronald Reagan's plank on life."

    Later in an interview, Forbes said, "The party has to make clear, don't tamper with the platform. Don't abandon principle. People will hate you for doing that even if they disagree with the principle." The platform calls for a constitutional amendment banning virtually all abortions.

    Forbes spent much of the day in New Hampshire and travels to Iowa on Thursday. But the official launch of his campaign came in cyberspace at 8 a.m. today when his campaign Web site opened for business with a video of Forbes delivering his announcement speech.

    The Internet video was long on identifying problems, but short on solutions. On global economic problems, he said, "Wherever you look -- Russia, Asia, Brazil -- economies are in deep trouble and people are suffering. We can't ignore that." On education and health care, he said, "Are your kids going to schools that are getting them ready to compete and succeed in the information-age economy? . . . Do you have the freedom to choose doctors you trust and specialists you need? No, and I don't think that's right, and I want to change that."

    Virtually all the presidential candidates have Web sites, but Forbes said he would make his a priority in his campaign. Saying the Internet combines "the immediacy of television with the depth of newspapers," he predicted that it soon will develop in an "electronic version of precinct politics" and attract new people to the process, particularly young people.

    But Forbes's claim that he was the first in history to announce his candidacy on the Internet was quickly challenged by rival Lamar Alexander, whose campaign sent out e-mails claiming the former Tennessee governor had done so four years ago. "Clearly the Forbes campaign has caught a bit of Al Gore fever," said Alexander spokesman Steve Schmidt, referring to the vice president's claim last week that he helped create the Internet. "Symptoms are clear: extreme cyber-exaggeration coupled with delusions of historical innovations."

    ked for family publishing house, Forbes Inc., beginning in 1970; became president and CEO in 1990.

    Quotable

    "We must create a new conservative majority. We must draw economic and social conservatives together in a cause that unites us."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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