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GOP Candidates Debate in Iowa in Pre-caucus Push

December 12, 2007 at 6:30 PM EST
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The wide field of Republican presidential candidates sparred on the issues in a debate Wednesday, the last such meeting in Iowa before the state's Jan. 3 caucus. Kwame Holman reports on the highlights of the debate.
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GWEN IFILL: Next, the Republicans’ matinee meeting in Iowa. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has that.

KWAME HOLMAN: The political dynamics in Iowa preceding this afternoon’s debate had shifted in recent days, with polls now showing Mike Huckabee as the frontrunner, a position Mitt Romney had held since campaigning began.

Carolyn Washburn, editor of the Des Moines Register and the sole questioner, announced she would stay away from Iraq and immigration as issues, but asked about the deficit as a threat to national security.

CAROLYN WASHBURN, Editor, Des Moines Register: Do you agree our country’s financial situation creates a security risk? And why or why not?

KWAME HOLMAN: Most, like former Governor Huckabee, agreed it did.

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: It’s most certainly a national security threat, because a country can only be free if it can do three things. First, it has to be able to feed itself. It has to be able to put food on the table for its own citizens.

Secondly, it’s got to be able to fuel itself. If it looks to somebody else for its energy needs, it’s only as free as those are willing for it to be.

And it also has to be able to fight for itself. It’s got to be able to manufacture its own weapons of defense, tanks, airplanes, bullets and bombs. When we start outsourcing everything and we’re in that kind of a trade deficit, then just remember who feeds us, who fuels us, and who helps us to fight. That’s to whom we are enslaved.

KWAME HOLMAN: California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), California: The trade loss this year is going to be $800 billion. It’s going to be $200 billion to Communist China, which is rapidly becoming our banker. And there’s an old saying, “You don’t want to have a banker who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.”

KWAME HOLMAN: And Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

REP. RON PAUL (R), Texas: It’s absolutely a threat to our national security, because we’ve spent too much, we taxed too much, we borrowed too much, and we print too much. When a country spends way beyond its means, eventually it will destroy the currency. And we’re in the midst of a currency crisis.

No 'sacrifices' mentioned

KWAME HOLMAN: However, none of the candidates would identify specific sacrifices Americans could make to lower the deficit. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), Former Mayor of New York: The problem is not the American people. What we should be doing is restraining the amount of money that Washington spends in a concerted way, with major reductions in civilian spending, using attrition, and returning, actually leaving more money in the pockets of the American people.

The strength of America is not its central government. The strength of America are its people. Restraining the central government give people more choice, more money to spend. We're going to see our economy booming. That's the kind of future where we can have unlimited dreams.

CAROLYN WASHBURN: Governor Romney, are there programs or situations that are so important that you'd be willing to run a deficit to pay for them?

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: Well, we don't have to run a deficit to pay for the things that are most important, because we can eliminate the things that aren't critical.

We have, in the federal government, 342 different economic development programs, often administered by different departments. We don't need 342. We probably don't need 100 of those. We probably need a lot fewer than that.

Surely, protecting our country and our defense of our military is critical. Getting our free market finally able to allow all of our citizens to have insurance, health insurance, that's something we did in Massachusetts. Improving our schools with school choice, better pay for better teachers. These are a lot of things that we can do, but they don't require us to eliminate the things that are most critical in our society.

KWAME HOLMAN: Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), Colorado: And, honestly, if you think about it, if you ask America, "What would you do? What would you sacrifice?" The one thing I would say is this: Don't ask the government for womb-to-tomb protection for your life, to build a bubble around you, because all of that will cost a humongous amount of money and money that we don't have.

Addressing the issues

KWAME HOLMAN: On the issue of climate change, the candidates balked at Washburn's attempts to get them to state their positions with a show of hands.

FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), Tennessee: I'm not doing hand-shows today.

CAROLYN WASHBURN: No hand-shows?

FRED THOMPSON: No hand-shows.

REP. RON PAUL: I'm with them.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, Arizona Senator John McCain said he believed the threat of climate change is real.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: Suppose that climate change is not real and all we do is adopt green technologies, which our economy and our technology is perfectly capable of. Then all we've done is given our kids a cleaner world.

But suppose they're wrong. Suppose they are wrong and climate change is real and we've done nothing. What kind of a planet are we going to pass on to the next generation of Americans?

It's real. We've got to address it. We can do it with technology, with cap-and-trade, with capitalist and free enterprise motivation. And I'm confident that we can pass onto our children and grandchildren a cleaner, better world.

KWAME HOLMAN: Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson appreciated being asked one of the few foreign policy questions of the afternoon.

CAROLYN WASHBURN: Senator Thompson, you've expressed doubts that the recent report on Iran's nuclear capabilities is accurate. As president, how would you decide when to disagree with available intelligence? And then what would you do?

FRED THOMPSON: Well, that's probably the most important question that's been asked today. We have a real problem with our intelligence community. It, along with certain parts of our military, were neglected for a long, long time in this country, and we're paying the price for it now.

So you've got to rebuild from the bottom-up. I think that, in the meantime, we have to rely on other people. The British are helpful to us; the Israelis sometimes are helpful to us.

Keyes gets heard

KWAME HOLMAN: Former Ambassador Alan Keyes was the most combative of the candidates, challenging Washburn for not offering him a chance to state his position on education.

ALAN KEYES (R), Former U.N. Ambassador: Do I have to raise my hand to get a question? I'd like to address that question.

CAROLYN WASHBURN: I'm getting to you.

ALAN KEYES: No, you're not. You haven't since several go-rounds, so I have to make an issue out it. I would like to address the question of education.

CAROLYN WASHBURN: Go ahead.

ALAN KEYES: I don't wish it to pass off.

CAROLYN WASHBURN: Go ahead. Please note that you have 30 seconds.

ALAN KEYES: They had a minute. Why do I get 30 seconds? Your unfairness is now becoming so apparent that the voters in Iowa must understand there's a reason for it. And the reason for it is what I'm about to say.

Governor Huckabee just addressed the question of education. He has stood before values voters and moral conservatives claiming that he is their spokesman. You know the major problem in American education today? We allowed the judges to drive God out of our schools. We allowed the moral foundation of this republic, which is that we are created equal and endowed by our creator, not by our Constitution or our leaders, with our rights.

If we don't teach our children that heritage and the moral culture that goes along with it, we cannot remain free. They will not be disciplined to learn science, to learn math, to learn history, to learn anything.

KWAME HOLMAN: This was the last Republican debate before Iowa's January 3rd caucuses. The Democrats will debate tomorrow.