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CAMPAIGN '08: ASSESSING THE DEBATE

The candidates stretched the truth in places

Plenty of Republicans joined McCain against a nuclear pact; Biden was wrong. Palin's tax claim isn't quite right.

October 03, 2008|Paul Richter and Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writers

In a debate that allowed Sarah Palin to get better acquainted with Americans as the newcomer to the national political scene, the Alaska governor spoke at length about her record and her personal story. Much of it was true. But not all of it.

For instance, she said: "As mayor, every year I was in office I did reduce taxes."

In fact, she oversaw a 35% increase in the operating budget of Wasilla, Alaska. What happened was this: Palin reworked the budget in part by decreasing the tax burden on city residents via the property tax -- which was indeed lowered -- and spreading the responsibility to residents outside the city by increasing the sales tax, to 2.5% from 2%.

Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, met her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, for a 90-minute debate in St. Louis.

Some stretches of fact were virtually replayed from last week's debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.

For instance, Palin charged that Obama "supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year." The nonpartisan group FactCheck.org has debunked the claim, which involved a vote on a nonbinding measure that assumed that tax breaks would expire.

Biden appeared to commit fewer factual twists than Palin, but he also resorted to stretches of truth at times.

Palin's finances

Palin said that she and her husband, Todd, have spent their lives "in the middle class of America." Yet their position seems enviable: a half-million-dollar home on a lake with a float-plane at the dock; two vacation retreats; commercial-fishing rights estimated to be worth at least $50,000; and an income last year of at least $230,000.

That compares to a median income of $64,333 for Alaskans and $50,740 for Americans in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.

Housing meltdown

Palin asserted that McCain pushed hard to reform mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago. "He sounded that warning bell."

But according to nonpartisan fact-checking group PolitiFact.org, McCain's support for reforming the mortgage giants was quite modest.

In May 2006, he signed on to a bill introduced more than a year earlier by another senator, and he issued a statement in support of the bill.

PolitiFact.org said he didn't do much else, and the measure failed to pass.

Energy

Biden repeated a claim put forward by the Obama campaign that McCain has voted against alternative energy sources 20 times. But an analysis Saturday by FactCheck.org examined the assertion and concluded, "They're overstating the case."

"In many instances, McCain voted not against alternative energy, but against mandatory use of alternative energy, or he voted in favor of allowing exemptions from these mandates," the group said. It said only 11 of the 23 votes involved "reducing or eliminating" incentives for renewable energy.

Nuclear pact

Biden said that McCain opposed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty though virtually every other Republican supported it. The treaty, a 1990s pact that bars nuclear testing but was never ratified by the United States, was defeated in October 1999 by a 51-48 vote in the Senate -- with most of the opponents coming from the Republican Party.

Mortgage payments

At one point, Biden said he and Obama support the idea of allowing bankruptcy judges to "adjust the principal" on mortgages to help homeowners remain in their houses.

The banking industry has strongly opposed such a change in the law, and last week, Obama told Democratic negotiators he was opposed to adding this change to the pending Wall Street bailout bill, apparently fearing it could bring down the whole package.

Afghanistan

Both candidates claimed support for their policies on Afghanistan from the new American commander there, Army Gen. David D. McKiernan.

Palin argued that the "surge principles, not the exact strategy" used in Iraq, are needed in Afghanistan. Biden retorted that McKiernan rejected a "surge" in Afghanistan. Palin, who referred to him as McClellan, disagreed.

Both were partially correct. On Wednesday, McKiernan said that "Afghanistan is not Iraq." He added, "The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge.' " But he has requested more troops and said new tactics are needed there.

Sudan

Palin said that she had called for Alaska's Legislature to pass a bill requiring a state investment arm to divest holdings related to Sudan to protest conditions in the Darfur region.

However, the bill was introduced by a Democrat, and Palin has not publicly pushed it. In addition, officials from the fund opposed the measure.

paul.richter@latimes.com

maura.reynolds@latimes.com

Times staff writers Peter Nicholas, Peter Spiegel, Julian E. Barnes, Kim Murphy, Josh Meyer, David Savage, Nicole Gaouette and Cynthia Dizikes contributed to this report.

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