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Forbes Draws GOP Fire at Debate in Des Moines

Politics: His flat-tax plan is assailed. Sens. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm trade barbs at the candidates' forum.


Alexander, however, questioned Forbes' commitment to not raising taxes, and in the process took a poke at his personal wealth and political inexperience. "Steve, the only thing you've ever run is a magazine you inherited, and you raised the price of your magazine. Now, what would you do with taxes?"

Dole suggested sarcastically that a Republican president might be able to break any future deadlock in budget negotiations by borrowing money from Forbes to keep the government running.

The battering of Forbes was so intense that Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove, another of the field's longshots, said: "I'm going to leave Steve alone--everybody is beating up on him."

Dornan showed no such mercy toward Clinton, whom he has frequently denounced in the past. On Saturday, Dornan labeled Clinton "a pathological liar." He also said he believed the accusations of Paula Corbin Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who has charged Clinton with sexually harassing her while he was governor of Arkansas. "I think we have a criminal in the White House," Dornan said.

None of the other candidates engaged in such harsh rhetoric about the incumbent, but Alexander broached Clinton's name in pursuing a theme he recently unveiled on the campaign trail: that Dole is too much of a Capitol insider and congressional deal-maker to supply the vision and inspire the support needed to defeat the incumbent.

Alexander warned fellow Republicans that if the party and its nominee focus too much on "what's going on in Congress instead of families and how to get a bill out of a subcommittee instead of rebuilding families . . . Bill Clinton's going to be reelected."

And speaking directly to Dole, whom some support because of his long service to his party, Alexander said: "It may be your turn, but it's not your revolution. It's not your time."

Dole, however, was undeterred in stressing his experience as a legislator. Listing his efforts on behalf of welfare reform, tougher criminal laws and tax cuts for families with children, Dole said: "I know those things happened in Congress, Lamar, but a lot of good things happen in Congress."


And in his closing statement, he spoke in third person to summarize what he would offer the nation as the Republican nominee. "Bob Dole is not a polarizer," he said. "Bob Dole provides leadership. Bob Dole delivers. Bob Dole tries to get things done."

Former State Department official Alan Keyes, the most stirring stump speaker among the candidates, used the debate to spotlight the centerpiece of his campaign: strengthening the "marriage-based, two-parent family."

Keyes won a chuckle from the audience when, in response to a question about the nation's racial conflicts, he said: "I'm tempted to say that the most important thing I can do to improve race relations in America is get elected president. . . ."

Keyes is the lone African American among the candidates.

Answering the same question, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana said that as president, he would seek to capitalize on the commitment to family and community that was stressed by so many of the black men attending the "Million Man March" in Washington last fall.

After the debate, Gramm defended the criticism heaped on Forbes by so many of his rivals. "The people are starting to see his flat-tax proposal and are seeing things wrong with it," he said.

And Scott Reed, Dole's campaign manager, claimed that Forbes has been "getting a free ride" until the debate because the other candidates had not challenged him directly.

"It's appropriate that people look at his ideas, which are risky," Reed said.

But Forbes told reporters: "I'm actually feeling encouraged because it shows my message is taking root. . . . That's why they had to attack me. The outsider can beat the insiders."

Times staff writer Henry Chu contributed to this story.

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