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Special Report / The Republican Presidential Debate

On The Record

Candidates George W. Bush, Alan Keyes and John McCain squared off Thursday night, sharing their visions of America's future.

March 03, 2000

The following is a transcript of the debate between Texas Gov. George W. Bush, commentator Alan Keyes and Arizona Sen. John McCain:

Judy Woodruff: Good evening, and welcome to the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times. We are here in the Harry Chandler Auditorium. This is the 12th time the Republican presidential candidates have met and the last time they will answer questions before they compete in their 13 crucial primaries across the country next Tuesday.

We want to thank the Los Angeles Times for co-sponsoring this event, which will last 60 minutes, and for which the candidate staffs have agreed to a few simple rules. The candidates will have one minute to answer each question and 30 seconds to answer a follow-up. The questions will come from our panelists and from me. A draw determined the order of the first round of questions. And we begin with Gov. Bush and Jeff Greenfield. Jeff.

Jeff Greenfield: Governor, since Republicans are going to decide who gets the delegates here and in New York, let me channel a question from an undecided Republican. You and Sen. McCain are both conservatives. Your policy differences don't seem to be matters of life and death. You have both been elected and reelected in your home states, and you both say you will get the lion's share of the Republican vote.

But Sen. McCain has shown an ability to get independents and Democrats, and if the surveys are right, they will stay with him in the fall if he's the nominee, but not with you. So unless there's a reason why Sen. McCain is unacceptable as a Republican, why shouldn't I go, as an undecided Republican, with the clearly more electable candidate?

George W. Bush: Well, I disagree with that presumption that independents are going to stay only with him. What America is looking for is somebody to set a hopeful vision for the future.

What America wants is somebody to speak clearly about education. What America is looking for is somebody who is going--who is going to strengthen the military to keep the peace. What Americans are worried about is the high tax burden on the working people. What America is looking for is somebody who has been a proven leader, somebody who has set an agenda, risen above politics when given the chance to be the chief executive officer. That's my record in the state of Texas, Jeff.

People are looking for a fresh start after a season of cynicism in Washington, D.C. I'm going to consolidate our Republican Party. I'm going to energize the party like I have been doing in the primaries. And when I become the nominee, I'm going to reach out to get Democrats and independents. It's been my record in the State of Texas and it will be my record as the nominee of the Republican Party.

Greenfield: Just to follow up, is there a reason why the Republican voter should think that Sen. McCain is somehow unacceptable as a Republican nominee, or are you just saying you would be better?

Bush: No. I think--you know, I like Alan Keyes and John--I'd just be a better candidate. I'm a person who, given the responsibility being the chief executive officer of the state, I performed. Our test scores are up in the State of Texas for African-American students and Hispanic students. I reformed our tort laws, and premiums are down on small businesses in my state. We reformed welfare, but also confronted suffering which remains, rallying faith-based organizations. I've got a record--a record that is conservative and a record that is compassionate.

Woodruff: All right. Next question for John McCain from Doyle.

Doyle McManus: Sen. McCain, I want to ask you in a sense the flip side, the mirror image, of Jeff's question to Gov. Bush. Earlier this week you called Pat Robertson and other leaders of the Christian conservative movement agents of intolerance. A little later you even called them evil. But you do sound as if you've kind of declared war on a large portion of your party and a portion that make up a large part of the electorate, including here in California. What I want to ask you is: Can you win the general election in November without the votes of Christian conservatives? If you win the nomination, aren't they likely to simply stay home or perhaps even vote for Patrick Buchanan?

John McCain: I don't think so, Doyle. I think the fact is that I have rejected the leadership of these two individuals. They have led our party in the wrong direction. We've lost the last two presidential elections. We've lost the last two congressional elections.

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