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  2d GOP Pres. Primary Debate
Title2d GOP Pres. Primary Debate
Start Date/TimeFebruary 20, 1980 07:00pm
End Date/TimeFebruary 20, 1980 07:00pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - November 08, 2008 09:03am
DescriptionA 7-way Republican debate was held in Manchester NH. It was the first of two debates preceding the New Hampshire primary on 2/26/1980. Candidates present were Gov. Reagan, Bush, Anderson, Connally, Sen. Baker, Rep. Crane, and Sen. Dole. This was the first debate in primary history with more than five candidates.

George H.W. Bush's unexpected victory in the Iowa caucus shook up the Republican race. With his "Big Mo" [a term he coined for momentum], Bush hoped for a win in New Hampshire to establish himself as the front runner. Bush, who had relied upon his moderate views in Iowa, was challenged to identify how he would govern differently than President Carter [New York Times, 2/16/1980]. Gov. Reagan, who placed second in Iowa, realized that he would have to face his fellow contenders in debates. Sen. Baker, who polls showed was running third in NH, tried to campaign as the most electable Republican without attacking fellow contenders [NYT 2/19/1980].

To a great extent, the Republican primary was seen as a three-way race among Reagan, Bush, and Baker. Bush and Baker faced off in the Puerto Rico primary on 2/17, which Bush won by a 60-37% margin, boosting his poll numbers.

Two debates were planned in the weeks before the New Hampshire primary. The first was planned for 2/20/1980 in Manchester.

Quick Facts
When: evening of 2/20/1980
Where: Central High School, Manchester NH; nationally televised by CBS and PBS
Moderators/Panel: not reported by the New York Times
Audience size: undetermined
Topics: Foreign and domestic policy
Sponsor: League of Women Voters
Transcript: not available.

Format: Questions and answers; closing statements

Setting: school auditorium; the candidates appeared on a stage in front of a large banner reading "1980 Presidential Forum." On two occasions, people in the audience interrupted the debate in protest.

Although the three leading contenders (Reagan, Bush, and Baker) all expected to come under attack, the seven Republicans mainly reserved their fire for President Carter. All seven believed that Carter did not appreciate the gravity of runaway inflation and had not kept the military strong. They also all commended former President Ford for being willing to veto congressional spending measures.

With seven candidates sharing the stage, each attempted to get in quick lines in the hopes the media would use them in stories. The candidates mostly repeated the ideas and policies they had discussed in Iowa.

In defense and foreign policy, Crane took the hardest line. He chastised Pres. Carter for trying to reach out to mainland China and for "pulling the rug out from under the Shah" of Iran. He also charged that Carter's sale of technology to the Soviet Union boosted that nation's military. Connally called for permanent military bases in the Middle East, particularly in the Persian Gulf. Bush opposed such new military bases. Baker feared that a renewed Soviet peace proposal would lure Carter into a false sense of security and lead to cancellation of new weapons programs. All candidates except Anderson favored increased defense spending. Reagan said "we have got to send some signals to the Soviet Union that there could be a confrontation down the road if they continue."

In economic and domestic policy, the candidates tended to agree with the exception of Anderson. He renewed his call for a 50ยข per gallon tax on gas as a means of reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil. The candidates were asked how they would deal with Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, since the Textron Corp., of which he was the former head, had paid $5 million in bribes to foreign entities. None of the candidates advocated firing him outright. Dole took the strongest stand, calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Baker cautioned against "trampling over good men and women. I think there's another responsibility, and that is to try to recivilize politics."

Each candidate gave the same programs for combating inflation that they had offered in Iowa. Bush thought that the answer was keeping federal spending below the inflation rate and offering tax cuts. Baker believed that offering a package to stimulate the economy, reduce federal administrative expenses, and indexing tax rates to inflation were the answer. Dole generally gave a similar program as Baker. Reagan called for a 30% cut in income taxes, a freeze on federal hiring, and lowering industrial taxes. Crane wanted to return the nation to the gold standard. Connally offered his "nest egg" plan that set forth ideas later incorporated into the IRA plan passed by the Reagan administration. Connally also wanted to eliminate the Dept. of Education. Anderson wanted to reduce federal aid to local police departments and elimination of the wage-price guidelines.

Reagan was asked a question about "single issue" concerns such as gun control and Roe vs. Wade. He replied these types of issues were "an expression of a discontent on the part of the people, a feeling that the old traditional values upon which our civilization was built are fading away."

In his closing remarks, Bush said that the "winner" of the debate was the Republican Party. He said that the Democrats "haven't gotten their act together" by agreeing to hold a debate. He maintained an optimism that "I believe supply side economics will do it... We can solve our problems in the '80s." [New York Times, 2/21/1980]

As with all multi-candidate debates, the three leaders tried to steer a moderate course while the four contenders in the second tier tried to set themselves apart. The second New Hampshire debate was held three days later, greatly overshadowing this debate.

Republican primary debates of 1980: First - [Link] , Third - [Link] , Fourth - [Link] , Fifth - [Link] , Sixth - [Link]

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