GOP PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: Health Care Overlooked
GOP frontrunner George W. Bush managed to escape last night's relatively genteel presidential debate in New Hampshire "without being ensnared in a discussion of divisive issues such as abortion," passing "his first big test" of the campaign "simply by showing up and not being shown up," USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro writes (USA Today, 12/3). During the 90-minute, question-and-answer session moderated by Fox News correspondent Brit Hume and Karen Brown of WMUR-TV in New Hampshire, the "notable ... absence of questions" on "burning" issues, such as health care and education, marked the debates, which touched on abortion only once, the Washington Post reports (Broder, 12/3). Issuing a challenge to Bush, contender Gary Bauer said, "I think that a Republican presidential nominee must make it clear that his running mate will be pro-life. ... I hope tonight that Governor Bush will clarify and finally agree that his will be." Bauer also pushed Bush to agree to appoint judges who "believe that our children will be welcomed into the world and protected by the law" (Fox News, 11/2). But Bush refused to take the bait and "remained silent on both subjects" (Washington Post, 12/3). Instead, he touted his experience as governor, saying, "There's only one person on this stage, only one person who's been in a chief executive officer position in terms of government" (Berke, New York Times, 12/3). Bush skipped the three previous GOP presidential debates but "reversed course" after Arizona Sen. John McCain began cutting into his New Hampshire lead, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The candidates will gather again Monday for a debate in Arizona (Mears, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/3).
Hatch on Right to Sue
The candidates only mentioned non-abortion related health care issues briefly. In response to a question about the lawsuit provision in the House version of the patient's bill of rights, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said "The best means is to allow an appeal so the decisions are made by doctors not by businessmen. The Senate bill allows for this. What we're trying to avoid is making lawyers rich at the cost of everyone else and running up the cost of the system. There has to be, ultimately, some ability to bring litigation if justice is not going to occur ... We have to make sure that patient's rights are protected. If they need litigation they have it, but if we can avoid litigation then ultimately we save everyone money.
Forbes Gives Health Care Quick Mention
Forbes briefly mentions a health care position, mostly in an attempt to pitch his flat-tax plan: " A family I spoke to here in NH, the Daily family, [said] my flat tax would enable them to buy family health insurance. People tell me this would benefit them." Forbes also mentioned health care in his closing remarks, saying "Patients should be in charge, not Washington." (Fox TV News, GOP Debate Transcript, 12/03).
Political analysts generally agree that both Bush and McCain fared well in the debate. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said, "This was a test of Bush to see how he would perform. I don't think he was the best person up there ... but I think the question was whether he would seem poised, prepared and presidential, and I think, clearly, the answer was yes," (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 12/3). A Los Angeles Times editorial agrees, noting, "Bush basically held his own without making any major mistakes." The editorial adds, however, that "his performance did not match the magnitude of his lead in the national opinion polls and his massive campaign treasury" (Los Angeles Times, 12/3). Shapiro pointed to McCain as the slight winner, writing that the senator "combin[ed] sincerity with a puckish sense of humor" and "provided solid, well-informed answers" to win "in performance terms." But "[b]y political standards," he says, Bush's satisfactory debate debut "might have won a far more valuable prize. ... McCain may have picked up some new converts with his maverick arguments delivered with a twinkle in his eye," but "it was the Texas governor who left the New Hampshire TV studio still holding a formidable lead" (USA Today, 12/3). The most recent New Hampshire polls, conducted Nov. 29-30, put Bush ahead of McCain, 41% to 36%. A Boston Globe survey also showed Bush leading McCain 45% to 31% (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 12/3).