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Republicans Face Off Over Economy in Thompson’s Debate Debut

GOP presidential hopefuls gathered in Michigan Tuesday for a debate centering on economic issues, the first such appearance for newcomer former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. Political reporters assess how the candidates fared in the forum.

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    Next, Fred Thompson joins the Republican nomination debate scene. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.


    And here they are, the candidates for the Republicans…


    The announced purpose of today's matinee debate, sponsored by MSNBC, CNBC, the Wall Street Journal, and the University of Michigan, Dearborn, was to spotlight economic issues.


    We're coming to you from the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center here in Dearborn in the heart of the American auto industry.


    However, the spotlight also was on Fred Thompson. Today was the first time the one-time senator-turned-actor-turned presidential candidate mixed it up with the eight other Republican hopefuls, and the first question went to him.


    The Dow and the S&P 500 today at new highs, tonight record numbers. And yet two-thirds of the people surveyed said we are either in a recession or headed for one. Why the angst?

    FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), Tennessee: Well, I think there are pockets in the economy certainly that are having difficulty. I think there are certainly those in Michigan that have having difficulty. I think you will always find that in a vibrant, dynamic economy.

    I think that not enough has been done to tell what some call the greatest story never told, and that is that we are enjoying a period of growth right now. And we should acknowledge what got us there and continue those same policies on into the future.


    Each of the candidates was asked to weigh in on the economic health of the country. Several gave good news-bad news answers. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

    FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: It's inexcusable that Michigan is undergoing a one-state recession, that the rest of the country is growing and seeing low levels of unemployment, but Michigan is seeing ongoing high levels of unemployment, almost twice the national rate. Industry is shrinking here; jobs are going away. This is just unacceptable. And, therefore, everyone is going to have to come together to solve the problem.


    Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

    RUDY GIULIANI (R), Former Mayor of New York: The president has to work on the fundamentals. What are the fundamentals? Keep taxes low. Keep regulations moderate. Keep spending under control. That's an area where we need a lot of help.


    And California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

    REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), California: But let me tell you, Chris, what is missing from this economy: 1.8 million jobs that have moved to communist China from the United States, including over 54,000 jobs from Michigan.

    You know, a couple of years ago, when our guys were getting hurt with roadside bombs in Iraq, I tried to find one steel company left in America that could still make high-grade armor steel plate to put on the sides of our Humvees to protect against roadside bombs. I found one company left that could still do that.


    Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo tied the nation's economic problems to his key issue, illegal immigration.

    REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), Colorado: And for every single illegal immigrant family in this country, it costs us $20,000, $20,000 in infrastructural costs. They pay about $10,000 in taxes. You really want to do something to restore the people's faith in government? Do something about illegal immigration. Don't just talk about it.


    Two of the candidates called for overhauling the current tax system. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

    FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: The fair tax does something that is absolutely phenomenal for the economy. It un-taxes productivity. It un-taxes those things which we export. It means that, for the first time in a long time in this country, instead of exporting our jobs, we'll actually be exporting products that we make in America, and we'll be able to make sure that there's a level playing field.

    It ends the underground economy that right now makes it so that folks like us end up paying taxes, but drug dealers don't, illegals don't, prostitutes and pimps, they don't, but we do.


    Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.

    SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: But here's an optional flat tax. Sixteen countries around the world have gone to the flat tax. Nobody has gone back away from it, because it creates growth, it creates growth in the economy, and it increases revenue for the government.