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Presidential Candidates Square Off in Hartford

ELECTION '96

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

HARTFORD, Conn.--President Bill Clinton and his Republican challenger Robert J. Dole sparred over several hot-button issues here last night in the first presidential debate of 1996, but neither seemed to land a knock-out blow.

The 90-minute debate held at the historic Bushnell Theater, although testy at times, was remarkably civil compared with some debates in previous presidential campaigns.

Both men began the debate by outlining their contrasting views of the current state of the country and their plans for the future.

"I think the basic difference is I trust the people and the president trusts the government," Dole said.

"I carry a little card around in my pocket called the 10th Amendment. Where possible, I want to give power back to the states and back to the people," said the former Kansas senator.

Clinton opened by saying, "I wanted a government that was smaller and less bureaucratic to help people have the tools to make the most of their own lives. Four years ago, you took me on faith. Now there's a record."

Throughout the debate, Dole attacked Clinton's tax increases, his record on drug abuse, and his overall "liberal record" during his first term.

"This is a very liberal administration," said Dole, who in most polls is trailing Clinton by double digits only a month before the Nov. 5 election. "This is the administration that gave you the big tax [hike]. This is the administration that tried to take over health care and impose a governmental system."

However, Clinton said Dole was just using a Republican trick from the past that did not apply to him and his administration.

"This liberal charge, that's what their party always drags out when they get in a tough race," Clinton said. "It's sort of their golden oldie you know. ...And I don't think that dog will hunt this time."

Dole, who was the aggressor throughout the debate, also strongly criticized Clinton's "photo op" foreign policy, pointing to past events in Somalia and Iraq.

"It's almost like an ad hoc foreign policy. It's ad hoc, it's sort of, well, we get up in the morning and read the papers and [when] the country is in trouble, we'll have a meeting," Dole said. "To me that's not the strategy that I think people expect from America."

Clinton, while taking "full responsibility for what happened at Somalia," said his administration had achieved a great deal in the complicated foreign policy arena.

"Now there is a democratically elected president in Haiti, peace in Bosnia--we've just had elections there," Clinton said. "We made progress in Northern Ireland and the Middle East."

"There will always be problems in this old world, but if we're moving in the right direction, and America is leading, we're better off," Clinton added.

Both Clinton and Dole ended the debate, which was moderated by PBS' Jim Lehrer, by reiterating common themes that each has espoused throughout the campaign.

"Folks, we can build that bridge to the 21st century big enough and strong enough for all of us to walk across. And I hope that you will help me build it," Clinton said.

Dole, who many said needed a dramatic performance here to turn the race in his favor in the last month, closed his remarks with an appeal to the "young people of America."

"We are the greatest country on the face of the Earth...This is important business, this election is important. I ask for your support," Dole said. "And if you really wanted to get involved, just tap into my home page www.dolekemp96.org."

After the debate, both sides predictably showered their respective candidates with praise.

"The President laid out very clearly what he has done and where he wants to go from here," said Democratic National Committee chair and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).

White House Press Secretary Michael D. McCurry, while admitting that Dole performed well, said the campaign was happy with its candidate's performance.

"We did everything we wanted to do," McCurry said after the debate. "The president had a very strong articulate argument for the 21st century."

Dole supporters equally praised their candidate, who frequently showed flashes of his characteristic wit.

"[Dole's humor] has always been there," said Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R-N.J.) in an interview after the debate. "I thought Clinton looked very tense."

And her Republican colleague across the Delaware River, Gov. Tom Ridge (R-Penn.), said "[Dole] put the president on the defensive for most of the night."

Clinton and Dole will meet again Oct. 16 in San Diego, where they will both participate in a "town-hall" style debate to be moderated again by Lehrer

Clinton, while taking "full responsibility for what happened at Somalia," said his administration had achieved a great deal in the complicated foreign policy arena.

"Now there is a democratically elected president in Haiti, peace in Bosnia--we've just had elections there," Clinton said. "We made progress in Northern Ireland and the Middle East."

"There will always be problems in this old world, but if we're moving in the right direction, and America is leading, we're better off," Clinton added.

Both Clinton and Dole ended the debate, which was moderated by PBS' Jim Lehrer, by reiterating common themes that each has espoused throughout the campaign.

"Folks, we can build that bridge to the 21st century big enough and strong enough for all of us to walk across. And I hope that you will help me build it," Clinton said.

Dole, who many said needed a dramatic performance here to turn the race in his favor in the last month, closed his remarks with an appeal to the "young people of America."

"We are the greatest country on the face of the Earth...This is important business, this election is important. I ask for your support," Dole said. "And if you really wanted to get involved, just tap into my home page www.dolekemp96.org."

After the debate, both sides predictably showered their respective candidates with praise.

"The President laid out very clearly what he has done and where he wants to go from here," said Democratic National Committee chair and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).

White House Press Secretary Michael D. McCurry, while admitting that Dole performed well, said the campaign was happy with its candidate's performance.

"We did everything we wanted to do," McCurry said after the debate. "The president had a very strong articulate argument for the 21st century."

Dole supporters equally praised their candidate, who frequently showed flashes of his characteristic wit.

"[Dole's humor] has always been there," said Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R-N.J.) in an interview after the debate. "I thought Clinton looked very tense."

And her Republican colleague across the Delaware River, Gov. Tom Ridge (R-Penn.), said "[Dole] put the president on the defensive for most of the night."

Clinton and Dole will meet again Oct. 16 in San Diego, where they will both participate in a "town-hall" style debate to be moderated again by Lehrer

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