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Published: Wednesday, 10/6/2004

Rivals spar over Iraq, taxes; Edwards on attack, Cheney backs war

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

CLEVELAND Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic challenger Sen. John Edwards battled over the war in Iraq, the war on terror, and domestic issues during a 90-minute nationally televised debate last night that broke little new ground but set the stage for the second presidential debate Friday in St. Louis.

A presidential race too close to call in many battleground states including Ohio, Michigan, and several others in the Midwest hangs in the balance.

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Edwards at times kept contempt for each other just below the surface as they sat across a table anchored by PBS journalist Gwen Ifill, trading sharp insults that amounted to charges that the other ticket was unfit to serve.

More than half the debate, hosted by Case Western Reserve University on Cleveland s east side, was dominated by affairs in the Middle East.

Mr. Cheney called the war in Iraq exactly the right thing to do, adding that Iraq was the most likely nexus between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

You are still not being straight with the American people, Mr. Edwards shot back.

The truth is, our men and women in Iraq have done everything they ve been asked to do, yet Iraq is a mess and it s getting worse, Mr. Edwards said.

Mr. Cheney chided Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry as not credible on Iraq because of your enormous inconsistencies. Mr. Edwards countered that, during last week s first presidential debate, Mr. Kerry was the epitome of a man who was strong, who had conviction on the Iraqi question.

Bush ads have featured taped comments from Mr. Kerry saying he first voted for funding the troops in Iraq before he voted against the funding. The Kerry quote has been one of the hallmarks of the campaign.

Mr. Edwards last night accused Mr. Cheney and the Bush campaign of repeatedly distorting Mr. Kerry s record and what is happening in Iraq. He said a Kerry administration would tell the American people the truth.

They want to know that the president and vice president will keep them safe, Mr. Edwards said. They want to know that [the president and vice president] have good judgement, and they want to know that they will tell the truth.

Mr. Cheney dismissed the idea that Mr. Bush has not been truthful, adding that his relationship with President Bush has worked well because Mr. Cheney has made it clear I have no political aspirations myself, a hit at Mr. Edwards, who ran unsuccessfully for president earlier this year and finally settled for the second seat on the ticket after Mr. Kerry beat him in the primaries.

It was the vice presidential candidates only face-to-face meeting before the Nov. 2 election.

Challenging Mr. Cheney on his association with Halliburton the vice president was a former CEO of the oil services company that has received billions for helping Iraq rebuild after the war Mr. Edwards said the facts are the vice president s company did business with the sworn enemies of the United States, and won no-bid contracts from the U.S.

There s no substance to the charges, Mr. Cheney replied.

After the slug at Mr. Cheney on his connection to Halliburton mentioned by name 10 times in last night s debate the vice president hit back hard on Mr. Edwards lack of connection to the U.S. Senate, as he pointed out that the North Carolina senator had missed so many votes that his hometown newspaper has taken to calling him Senator Gone.

Mr. Cheney hit Mr. Edwards, a trial lawyer by profession, for contributing to the skyrocketing cost of health care by forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine and by triggering a large increase in medical malpractice insurance premiums.

Mr. Edwards countered that he, too, wanted lawsuit reform.

We do have too many lawsuits, the senator said. The reality is, there is something we can do. We want to put more responsibility on lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits.

But then Mr. Edwards reached back to his days as a trial lawyer to talk passionately about a little girl he had represented who had been seriously injured in a swimming pool because of a defective part that the manufacture knew had injured several others. He said a Kerry administration would always fight for such victims.

As the debate reached its halfway point, the candidates turned their attention to domestic issues.

On taxes, Mr. Cheney said there is a fundamental difference between the Republican ticket on taxes, with the incumbents believing people should keep more of what they earn, and the Democrats, who he said think increasing taxes and giving government more control over the lives of American citizens is the answer.

Mr. Edwards countered that he believes that Americans need more tax relief, not less tax relief, and that the challengers want to close some corporate loopholes. We can move this country back onto the path of fiscal responsibility.

He also said that Mr. Kerry planned to roll back tax cuts Mr. Bush gave to people making more than $200,000 a year to help finance expanded health-care coverage and provide more tax cuts to the middle class in the form of assistance for college education.

The question of gay rights made a brief appearance in the wide-ranging debate.

I said then and believe today that people ought to be free to choose any living arrangement they want, said Mr. Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian. He added that he opposed the establishment of homosexual marriage.

The fact is that the President felt it important to make clear that that was the wrong way to go, and I support him, Mr. Cheney said.

I believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman, but there should be freedom to establish partnerships between two women or two men, Mr. Edwards said.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:fritz@theblade.comor 419-724-6134.



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