The final Iowa forum featuring all the Republican presidential candidates was notable for its few bursts of humor and its lack of direct candidate-to-candidate confrontation.
Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson drew laughter from the audience on a few occasions, for instance when he joked during a question about tax policy that he wanted to be in Mitt Romney’s tax bracket. But Thompson, who has not spent as much time on the Iowa campaign trail as the leading candidates here, also presented a sober side to Iowans.
"I’d go before the American people and tell them the truth…and tell them that we haven’t come to terms yet with the nature of the threat that we’re facing or what we’re going to have to do to defend ourselves over the years," Thompson said. "I’d tell them that, if they didn’t already know it, that we’re bankrupting the next generation and nobody even wants to talk about it much less do anything about it."
Each candidate was given a few minutes to make their case to voters. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stressed his biography. "I can tell you it’s a long way from the little rent house I grew up in to this stage. I’m still in awe that this country would afford kids like me the opportunity to be a president," Huckabee said. "I’ll try not to forget where I came from and where this country needs to go."
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the only candidate to make a direct appeal for Iowans’ votes. "Thank you to the people of Iowa. Over the last year my wife and I have visited many, many homes, many places, over 70 town meetings," Romney said. "…And finally, I want to say to the people of Iowa, ‘I need your help. I’d like your vote. I want you to get out and participate in that Caucus.’"
Arizona Senator Arizona John McCain said the next president must restore trust in government. "We have to stop this wasteful, pork barrell spending that has led to corruption in Washington. Of course we have to fix our borders. We have to sit down, together, and fix Medicare and Social Security," McCain said, "and I can lead. I can inspire confidence."
The debate’s moderator pressed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani about the city’s expense of providing security for his girlfriend six years ago and listing those expenses not in the police budget but in other city agencies. "Some of the things that I wish, if had I lived a perfect life, would have happened differently, but it was all very well known," Giuliani said. "On the issue of transparency, I can’t think of a public figure that’s had a more transparent life than I’ve had."
Earlier, Giuliani had stressed his fiscal record and the way he handled crises like 9/11. "Most importantly, we need an optimistic leader who can bring us these kind of solutions," Giuliani said. "I’ve gotten results in the past. I’d like the opportunity to do that for my country."
The candidates, as a group, embraced free markets and some, like California Congressman Duncan Hunter, rejected the idea of government mandates — even for Iowa-made ethanol. "You know, I’d say instead of mandates, incentives," Hunter said. "The problem with mandating only biofuels, you know, ethanol’s not the greatest thing in showbusiness. You use a lot of energy to create ethanol and there’s other biofuels out there — biodiesel, etcetera."
Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said he, too, was opposed to government mandates in the energy industry. "I don’t believe in mandates. I don’t believe that they should be increased," Tancredo said. "I believe that the market is the best determinant of how they should be addressed."
Texas Congressman Ron Paul stressed the need to reign in government spending and end the war in Iraq. "We could bring our troops home. That would be a major event. It would be very valuable," Paul said. "We could become diplomatically credible once again around the world. Right now, today, we’re not; even our allies resent what we do."
Former Ambassador Alan Keyes repeatedly ridiculed the other candidates on stage, calling them "phonies."
The debate was organized and sponsored by The Des Moines Register broadcast on Iowa Public Television.