- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

MANCHESTER, N.H. John McCain faced more fire in last night's Republican presidential debate in some testy exchanges on the strength of his opposition to abortion.
"I am proud of my pro-life record … I have spoken as eloquently as I can on the issue," the Arizona Republican said in the last debate before the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary Tuesday.
Mr. McCain pointed to his support for a ban on partial-birth abortion and requiring parental consent for minors.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, meanwhile, was asked what two-sentence change he would make in the Constitution if he could write an amendment.
The Republican front-runner said he would support a constitutional amendment providing "that every child, born and unborn, is protected in law and every child be welcomed into life."
He did not repeat his call for the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that created the right to abortion.
Mr. McCain's answer came in response to a question by Alan Keyes. The former ambassador said Mr. McCain did not understand the issue, referring to his statements earlier in the day that a hypothetical abortion for his teen-age daughter would be "a family matter."
"If your daughter came to you and said she was contemplating killing her grandmother for the inheritance, you wouldn't call a family conference," Mr. Keyes said.
Mr. McCain said he would not "draw my children into the debate."
A clearly irritated Mr. McCain rebuked Mr. Keyes about an hour later in the debate.
"I've seen enough killing in my life, I understand how precious human life is," said the former naval aviator and a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "I don't need a lecture from you."
The stakes were high for last night's debate since it was the last chance for the candidates to face a mass audience before the vote. Mr. McCain, who trails in national polls, was trying to hold onto his lead in New Hampshire.
Magazine publisher Steve Forbes was hoping to capitalize on his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses Monday. Mr. Keyes and Gary Bauer, meanwhile, were trying to remain in the race in the face of low poll numbers.
None of the candidates stumbled obviously while all engaged in a lively debate on a variety of contentious issues, particularly taxes.
The five remaining Republican hopefuls sparred on other issues as well during the 90 minutes, particularly on taxes.
Mr. Forbes continued his attack on Mr. Bush, accusing him of giving Texans illusory tax cuts.
"Your tax cuts only [President] Clinton and [Vice President Al] Gore could love when most people don't get [any benefit]," he said.
Mr. Bush defended himself, saying he had given Texans $3 billion in "real tax cuts." Mr. Bush has proposed a sweeping cut in the federal income tax rates for all taxpayers.
Mr. McCain has attacked that plan as too large, while Mr. Forbes has questioned whether Mr. Bush can be trusted on his promise.
Mr. Bush lashed back at Mr. McCain's smaller tax-cut plan, which does not cut any tax rates.
"My problem with your plan is it leaves too much in Washington… . I believe, use this time of prosperity to get money out of Washington and into the pockets of taxpayers," he said.
Mr. Forbes also went after Mr. Bush strongly on other parts of his record in Texas, citing a litany of what he said were shortcomings in education and the size of government.
"So many half-stories, so little time," Mr. Bush snapped, then pivoted to one of his best issues as judged in the polls his electability. Voters in Texas re-elected him in 1998 on his record, he said, adding that Texas is a "mighty important state" for any Republican running for president, with 32 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
The candidates united around one issue distaste for the Clinton administration. All the candidates attacked Mr. Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, although each said he did not support making it a felony to lie to the American public.
Mr. McCain opened the abortion question earlier in the day when he refused to rule out allowing his 15-year-old daughter to have an abortion if she were to become pregnant. After insistent prodding from reporters, he said it would be her private decision.
Initially, he answered, "No, it would be a private decision… . Obviously I would encourage her to know that the baby would be brought up in a warm and loving family. The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel."
Asked if that was the same answer a pro-choice advocate would give, Mr. McCain added, "I don't think it is the pro-choice position to say that my daughter and my wife and I will discuss something that is a family matter that we have to decide."
He later backtracked and said it would be "a family decision and not her decision."
Mr. Keyes pounced on the answer and said neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. McCain could succeed in the general election as the party's nominee because they can't articulate their pro-life stance.
"They don't have it in their hearts; they don't have it in their minds. They haven't thought it through," Mr. Keyes said in Manchester.
Mr. Keyes gave his answer to the pregnant-daughter question: "My daughter has been raised to believe that that's God's decision, and that it has already been made. And therefore, I have no fear of what she would do."
Mr. Bush has also been pressed by reporters on the issue and has said he would nominate Supreme Court justices who interpret the Constitution narrowly, but he refused prodding from Mr. Bauer to promise explicitly to nominate only pro-life judges.
"I believe it's important for the next president to recognize that good people can disagree on this issue," he said.
Nearly 90 minutes later, in the debate's closing moments, Mr. Bauer offered a different view.
"My judges will be pro-life, and abortion on demand will be over in my administration," he said. He said his own party hadn't been single-minded enough on the issue and said "we put judges like David Souter on the Supreme Court."
Justice Souter was nominated by President Bush.
Mr. Bauer fielded a question from Mr. McCain about the impact of special-interest money, and turned it into an attack on his rivals. Mentioning U.S. China policy, he said, "I think some of you guys already are affected by some of these big-money contributions.
"No one has ever bought me and no one ever will," said Mr. Forbes, whose candidacy is largely self-funded.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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