DULUTH, Ga. -- Describing himself as the only candidate with a true conservative voting record, Rep. Mac Collins told Gwinnett County Republicans that Rep. Johnny Isakson is a moderate candidate in the race for U.S. Senate.
"If the shoe fits, wear it," Collins said to Isakson in Saturday night's debate between the three Republicans in the race.
Added Collins: "It is the view of a lot of people."
Isakson replied he "was conservative when it wasn't cool" in the mid-1970s and has won previous elections when accused of holding moderate views.
"I was elected to replace Newt Gingrich with six opponents who said I was a moderate and they were more conservative and I got 65 percent of the vote and they got 35," Isakson said.
Added Isakson, stating his voting rating compares with Collins: "I don't buy labels, I buy records."
While Isakson and Collins compared voting records, Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, stressed his experience from the business world.
"Yes they are politicians with a lot of political experience," Cain said of Collins and Isakson. "I'm a problem solver and we have a lot of problems that need to be solved."
Added Cain: "With all due respect they are part of the status quo. My commitment is I will challenge the status quo until we get the big change."
The three candidates hope to represent the Republican party in the race for Sen. Zell Miller's seat.
Due to high interest in the debate, event organizer Julianne Thompson said she expanded the seating from 400 to about 800 in the Gwinnett Civic and Cultural Center facility.
A large turnout of Cain's supporters wore red T-shirts. Among the Cain supporters were student groups from the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.
The candidates were described by debate moderator Dick Williams as "three thoroughbreds" with similarly strong conservative views.
While Williams made that point, Collins shook his head in disagreement.
"I am the only one who has a consistent proven voting record that is conservative," Collins insisted in his opening statement.
The candidates disagreed on some issues, including the scheduled reduction in U.S. military bases in 2005.
"I don't think you should put it on hold," Collins said. "I think you should move forward with base closures. ... Our military has changed. We have a lot more sophisticated equipment. We do not need as many bases as we've had."
Collins suggested reducing the military bases in Europe before America, but Cain and Isakson said this is not the time to cut back on any bases.
"We have a lot of facilities overseas that need to be looked at with a critical eye," said Isakson, adding he recommends pushing back scheduled closings from 2005 to 2007.
Cain took a stronger stance against closing any bases during the ongoing war in Iraq.
"I don't believe we should have our men and women in uniform distracted about what base is going to be shut down," Cain said. "We should be focused on strengthening the bases and even expanding them."
The three all spoke in support of President Bush's efforts in Iraq and all agreed the war should not be compared with Vietnam. Only Cain was reluctant to support the scheduled June 30 hand-off of power to the citizens of Iraq.
"I believe we should do it when it is the right time instead of because of political pressure ... even if we have to move it," said Cain of the handoff date.
Collins and Cain spoke in favor of tax reform with a national retail sales tax. Isakson said he wanted to see the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 made permanent, and he said he would work for a new tax code.
The next scheduled debate for the Republicans in the Senate race is June 12 in Augusta.
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