Manchester, NH (CNSNews.com) - The five men still running for the Republican presidential nomination met last night in a nationally televised debate, their last joint appearance before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Abortion was among the main issues the candidates discussed.
Asked by CNN anchor Bernard Shaw what he would write if he had the opportunity to add a two-sentence amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Texas Gov. George W. Bush responded, "Every child should be protected in law...every child is welcomed to life."
Bush said the next president must "elevate the issue of life," and he said he would sign a ban on partial birth abortions as well as support abstinence and adoption programs.
"I am pro-life and I've been a pro-life governor," Bush said, noting that as governor he signed into law a parental notification bill.
But it was Alan Keyes and John McCain who really tussled over the issue. Keyes asked McCain to clarify what he'd said earlier in the day, when a reporter asked McCain what he would do if he learned his teenage daughter was pregnant.
McCain initially responded he leave the decision up to his daughter. He later clarified his response with a statement saying the matter would be "a family decision."
With Keyes insisting that decisions involving life are decisions made by God, McCain retorted, "I am proud of my pro-life record ... I will not draw my children into this discussion."
Nearly an hour later, and with no direct provocation by Keyes, McCain turned to the radio talk show host and referring to abortion, said, "I've seen enough killing in my life. I don't need a lecture from you."
This has been a bad week for McCain on the abortion issue. Earlier in the week, the Arizona senator said he favored fetal tissue research but opposed the sale of fetal tissue.
Asked by a reporter if that view was consistent with his self proclaimed pro-life voting record, McCain became testy and declined to discuss the matter further, virtually breaking off the interview.
Bush and Gary Bauer also tangled over abortion. Asked how far he would carry his litmus test on the matter and whether it would include members of his cabinet, the former Reagan administration domestic policy advisor responded, "I'll do as president whatever I have to do to end abortion on demand...We're destroying 1.5 million children a year."
"I'll appoint pro-life judges and pro-life people to every place in my administration...abortion on demand will end in my administration," he added.
Turning to Bush, Bauer asked if he would make the same commitment. The governor declined, telling his opponent, "I'll appoint judges who are strict constructionists who won't use the bench to legislate."
Given the number of justices nominated for the high court by Republican presidents, Bauer then responded, "Abortion ought to be over. We (Republicans) have not been serious about it."
While the life issue was high on the agenda, the would-be presidential nominees also discussed other issues, including taxes and trade. Keyes, dismayed at what he was hearing, at one point accused his rivals of proposing "Clinton policies" to address many of the issues.
On campaign finance reform, McCain called this week's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a state's right to place limits on campaign contributions "a magnificent affirmation of the efforts I have been making."
McCain accused Bush of defending the current system, which, he said, made it possible for Communist Chinese companies to donate to campaigns. "In a debate with Al Gore, you'll have nothing to say," McCain said to Bush. "If anybody around here wants business as usual, they won't want to vote for John McCain," said the Arizona senator.
Bush responded, "I'm for reform, John. I sure am. I'm for reform, but your plan is not fair."
Clearly annoyed, McCain accused the Bush campaign of "setting up soft money, to be used in the general election."
As they have for nearly a month, Bush and McCain continued to argue over their respective tax plans. "Al Gore could have written yours," Bush said to the Arizona Senator.
For his part, Steve Forbes attacked Bush for allowing the size of Texas government to increase under his watch. Forbes said Texas now has 36,000 more employees than the state of New York, and he aid spending under Bush has increased by 36 percent.
"So many half-stories. So little time to respond," said Bush.
Asked if he would be willing to give up his use of 30-second ads if the networks would agree to provide free airtime, Steve Forbes quickly responded no. "The system has been designed to keep the outsiders out...the rules are designed to perpetuate the establishment," he explained in defending his ads.
The Republicans' 90-minute session preceded a one-hour debate between Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley.