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Forbes Wants to Debate Dole on Flat Tax Ad

February 5, 1996

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) _ Publisher Steve Forbes complained Monday that his flat-tax plan was getting unfair criticism and challenged Bob Dole to a one-on-one debate over an ad the Kansas senator is airing in New Hampshire.

The Dole campaign said fine, Forbes can debate New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill, who is featured in the ad. ``Steve Forbes has challenged my record and attacked me personally,″ Merrill said in a statement from the Dole campaign.

The release said nothing about Dole accepting the debate challenge himself.

Forbes, mounting a strong challenge to Dole in both Iowa and New Hampshire, said Dole’s ad was based on ``false information″ and ``bogus arithmetic.″ The ad states that a typical New Hampshire household would pay $2,000 more in taxes under the Forbes tax plan.

``Even the author of the study now acknowledges it was based on not my flat tax but somebody else’s version of it,″ Forbes said during a Monday news conference in Sioux City. ``So, I would hope that Sen. Dole would take up the challenge. I think on this and other issues, the people of Iowa, the people of New Hampshire deserve a full debate.″

Dole campaign manager Scott Reed said Forbes’ irritation at the ad was evidence that ``obviously we’ve hit a nerve.″

``Steve Forbes has spent millions on his attack ads, but it only took one ad featuring Governor Merrill telling the truth about his tax plan before the air started rushing out of the Forbes balloon,″ Reed said.

With the critical Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses nearing, Forbes has been trying unsuccessfully to get Dole to pull the ad from the air. The spot features Merrill warning about the potential costs of the Forbes plan to New Hampshire taxpayers.

Dole campaign officials said they based the ad on a study done for the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

The study calculated how much taxpayers would lose if the federal deductions for mortgage interest and state property taxes were eliminated, as Forbes proposes. However, the study does not take into account how a taxpayer’s losses might be offset by higher exemptions under Forbes’ plan.

Many experts do believe some middle-class taxpayers would pay more under Forbes’ plan. But Forbes would exempt the first $36,000 in income for a family of four.

Forbes said he would debate Dole anywhere, anytime on Tuesday.

``The flat tax is a tax cut,″ Forbes said. ``That’s something the Washington political class does not want the American people to know. Because if the American people know that, they’re going to support my candidacy and moving forward in America. They’ll realize it’s simply a stunt, a bogus study, a bogus ad.″

Forbes, whose own negative ads have been labeled misleading by his rivals, told Iowa voters that ``fear-mongers″ were attacking his tax idea to stop him from smashing the insider culture of Washington.

``I think I have a better appreciation of life in America than those who have been cocooned in the Beltway for a quarter of a century,″ he said.

Forbes said critics were trying to stop the American people from understanding that his flat-tax proposal would let them keep more of their money.

``They’re going to tell you that it’s the cause of this cold weather. They’re going to tell you that if your car doesn’t start, it’s because of the flat tax,″ he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. ``They’re going to tell kids it’s going to mean more homework. They’re going to tell parents it’s going to mean less homework and less education for their children.

``Anything you want and anything that bothers you, they’re going to blame on the flat tax.″

At a lunchtime stop in Sioux City, Forbes was asked about his choice for a running mate, should he win the GOP nomination.

``I think that the kind of person I’m going to be looking for is not necessarily going to be from those who are currently active in political life,″ he said. ``It’s going to be a wider net than that.″

Laura Lefler, 72, of Sioux City, said she plans to attend next Monday’s GOP caucuses, changing her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican so she can vote for Forbes.

``I like everything he says. He is very straightforward. He talks from the heart,″ Lefler said.

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