- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2004

TEMPE, Ariz. — An energized President Bush and Sen. John Kerry battled over who is tougher on illegal immigration and a stronger proponent of tax cuts in their third and final debate, a domestic-policy clash that spilled over to the war on terrorism.

Mr. Bush, who angered many conservatives earlier in the year with a proposal to relax penalties against illegal immigrants from Mexico, accused Mr. Kerry of seeking an amnesty.

“I don’t believe we ought to have amnesty. I don’t think we ought to reward illegal behavior,” Mr. Bush said last night. “And here is where my opponent and I differ. In September 2003, he supported amnesty for illegal aliens.”

Mr. Kerry supports amnesty for some illegal aliens and shares the president’s desire for a guest-worker program. He said Mr. Bush broke a promise to enact that program, which he said would not go far enough.

“The second thing we need is to crack down on illegal hiring,” Mr. Kerry said. “It’s against the law in the United States to hire people illegally, and we ought to be enforcing that law properly.

“The borders are more leaky today than they were before 9/11.”

The president called that an “outrageous claim.”

“He just doesn’t understand how the borders work, evidently, to say that,” Mr. Bush said, pointing to the increased manpower and new technology that he said the Border Patrol now has.

But Mr. Kerry refused to back down.

“Four thousand people a day are coming across the border,” he said. “We now have people from the Middle East, allegedly, coming across the border.”

Throughout the 90-minute debate at Arizona State University, the two candidates sparred over hot-button social issues such as abortion, gun control, an amendment to prohibit same-sex “marriage” and affirmative action. They also traded charges over whose record was worse with respect to jobs, health care and fiscal discipline.

Both seemed to be testing each other with jabs, with neither man delivering a conclusively damaging charge or withering joke. But the president repeatedly returned to Iraq and Mr. Kerry’s qualifications to lead in the war on terror, reminding the audience that the senator voted against the resolution authorizing the first Gulf war, when many nations were “part of the coalition.”

Mr. Bush hammered Mr. Kerry’s voting record on taxes, listing again and again the number of times Mr. Kerry has opposed tax cuts or voted for tax increases.

“There’s a mainstream in American politics, and you sit on the far left bank,” Mr. Bush said, mentioning Mr. Kerry’s liberal colleague. “As a matter of fact, your record is such that Senator Ted Kennedy is the conservative from Massachusetts.”

He said Mr. Kerry voted to increase taxes 98 times, voted against tax cuts 127 times and voted to waive budget caps 277 times.

But the Democratic presidential nominee shot back that Mr. Bush has been anything but conservative with the government’s finances.

“Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country,” Mr. Kerry said, referring to the TV mob boss.

The Massachusetts senator said that he has voted for tax cuts more than 600 times and that one of the first issues on which he broke with other Democrats when he came to Congress in the 1980s was to support efforts to balance the budget.

Asked about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion a constitutional right, Mr. Bush focused his answer on whether he would apply a litmus test for judges, saying he would not.

Mr. Kerry, though, said it will be a standard for him, now that the court has ruled.

“I’m not going to appoint a judge to the court who’s going to undo a constitutional right, whether it’s the First Amendment or the Fifth Amendment or some other right that’s given under our courts today or under the Constitution,” the Democrat said.

“And I believe that the right of choice is a constitutional right, so I don’t intend to see it undone,” Mr. Kerry said

“He clearly has a litmus test for his judges,” Mr. Bush retorted.

The debate, moderated by Bob Schieffer from CBS, focused on domestic issues, and Mr. Bush was on the defensive early on his record on jobs.

Mr. Kerry, while admitting that he cannot stop outsourcing of jobs overseas, said he will do better than the president at forcing other countries to open up their markets.

“What I can promise you is I will make the playing field as fair as possible,” he said.

“Let me talk to the workers,” Mr. Bush responded. “You’ve got more money in your pocket as a result of the tax relief we passed and he opposed.”

Mr. Schieffer reminded Mr. Kerry that he pledged during the last debate not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $200,000 a year. The moderator asked how he could keep that pledge without ballooning the federal deficit.

“We start by rolling back George Bush’s unaffordable tax cut for the wealthiest people who are earning over $200,000 a year,” Mr. Kerry said. “We’re going to restore the fiscal discipline we had in the 1990s.”

Mr. Kerry went on to explain that during the Clinton era, the U.S. government employed a “pay-as-you-go” philosophy, which meant that taxes could not be cut until the Congress agreed to cut spending by an equivalent amount.

“You talk about pay-go,” Mr. Bush retorted. “I’ll tell you what pay-go means, when you’re a senator from Massachusetts, when you’re a colleague of Ted Kennedy: Pay-go means you pay, and he goes ahead and spends.”

Although the debate was supposed to be limited to domestic issues, the candidates repeatedly discussed the war on terrorism, starting with their responses to the very first question.

At one point, Mr. Bush jumped on Mr. Kerry’s recent assertion that he hoped terrorism could be reduced to a “nuisance,” comparable to prostitution or illegal gambling.

“I think that attitude and that point of view is dangerous,” Mr. Bush said. “I don’t think you can secure America for the long run if you don’t have a comprehensive view.”

Mr. Kerry, though, said Mr. Bush has failed in the war on terror and on homeland security.

“I believe this president, regrettably, rushed us into war,” he said. “I can do a better job of waging a smarter, more effective war on terror.”

But when he added that Mr. Bush has not pursued Osama bin Laden aggressively enough, the president accused him of stretching the truth.

“I never said I’m not worried about Osama bin Laden,” he said. “It sounds like one of those exaggerations.”

Prompted by questions, both men described how their religion affects their governing philosophies — for Mr. Kerry, a wall between the two, and for Mr. Bush, a light that guides him.

“I am a Catholic, and I grew up learning how to respect [the Catholic Church’s] views, but I disagree with them, as do many,” Mr. Kerry said in response to a question on abortion. “I believe I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith.”

Mr. Bush also said he won’t impose his religion, but said, “When I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am.”

Asked specifically whether homosexuality was a choice, Mr. Bush said he didn’t know, while Mr. Kerry said it is not.

“We’re all God’s children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is lesbian, she would tell you she’s being who she was. She’s being who she was born as,” Mr. Kerry said.

The night’s lightest exchange came when Mr. Schieffer asked the men to talk about their wives, the “strong women” in their lives.

Mr. Kerry joked that he, Mr. Bush and Mr. Schieffer all married up — “and some would say maybe me more so than others.”

Mr. Bush joked that he’d learned from first lady Laura Bush “to stand up straight and not to scowl” — a reference to the president’s widely criticized facial expressions during the first debate.

But he then showed a softer side, telling the story of his first meeting his future spouse at “the classic backyard barbecue” in Midland, Texas.

“There was only four of us there,” he recalled. “And not only did she interest me, I guess you would say it was love at first sight.”

The public-opinion polls show that more voters scored the first two debates a victory for Mr. Kerry than Mr. Bush, although Mr. Kerry’s edge was much slimmer in the second debate, a town-hall meeting last week in St. Louis.

With the debates over, both campaigns begin a period of furious battleground state campaigning.

Kerry campaign advisers said they will travel in the upcoming days to Nevada, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Iowa. Mr. Kerry just spent three nights in New Mexico.

Of those states, five were won by Democrat Al Gore in 2000, suggesting that Mr. Kerry has to defend more of his own ground.

Mr. Bush planned to travel to Nevada this morning for campaign appearances in Las Vegas and Reno. After trips to Iowa and Wisconsin tomorrow and Florida on Saturday, the president planned to campaign nonstop for more than two weeks, not returning to the White House until after he votes in Crawford, Texas, on Election Day.

The Kerry campaign yesterday morning tried to head off Mr. Bush’s labeling Mr. Kerry the most liberal senator based on the ratings of National Journal, calling it “another Bush lie.”

The campaign sent out a quote from the nonpartisan weekly publication that said the Bush campaign was sometimes “just plain wrong” in how it refers to the rankings.

The magazine did declare Mr. Kerry the “No. 1 Senate liberal in 2003,” based on his votes for that year. It was the fourth time in his 19 years in the Senate that Mr. Kerry earned the “most liberal” label.

On the basis of career voting records, the magazine ranks Mr. Kerry as the 11th-most liberal senator out of 48 Democrats now in the chamber — more liberal than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, but less liberal than Mr. Kennedy or Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat.

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