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GOP candidates see the light: It's the economy

  • Story Highlights
  • McCain wants to lower corporate tax rates, increase tax credits for research
  • Romney promises to announce economic stimulus plan soon
  • Thompson, Huckabee open to rebate but warn stimulus plan could increase debt
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From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau
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SPARTANBURG, South Carolina (CNN) -- Just before the critical South Carolina primary on Saturday, it's clear what the Republican presidential candidates learned from the Michigan primary: focus on the economy.

Sen. John McCain speaks at a rally in Sumpter, South Carolina, Thursday.

Sen. John McCain clearly heeded that lesson after losing to Mitt Romney in Michigan on Tuesday.

"We're seeing the news, we're seeing the concerns that people have out there," McCain said Thursday outside his South Carolina campaign headquarters in Columbia.

And, just as the president and lawmakers have done back in Washington, McCain unveiled a new economic stimulus plan.

"We have some tough times ahead," he said. "I will cut your taxes. I will encourage the growth. I will eliminate the wasteful and unnecessary spending and we will get through this rough patch, my friends. We'll get through it."

Specifically, McCain wants to:

  • Lower the corporate tax rate,
  • Allow a tax write-off for equipment and technology investments, and
  • Establish a new tax credit for research and development.
  • McCain has stopped warning voters that lost jobs aren't coming back, a message that did not work in Michigan. Instead, he is striking an optimistic tone. Video Watch the candidates discuss their stimulus plans »

    "I want to look you in the eye and remind you this is still the most powerful and greatest nation on Earth," he said. "We are the greatest innovator. We are the greatest exporter, the greatest importer, the strongest economy, the strongest military, and a beacon of hope and freedom to everybody in the world."

    He added, "Our economic fundamentals are strong, and we can get through this. We can do it because America's greatest days are ahead of us."

    The man who beat McCain in Michigan was not ready to concede the issue to the Arizona Republican. In a hurried appearance before he left South Carolina for Nevada on Thursday, Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and businessman, promised he will also announce an economic plan in the next day or two "to give the economy a short-term boost."

    "I do believe it makes sense for Congress to take immediate action," Romney said in Columbus. "The consequence of the economy falling into recession is one which can be calculated in large numbers for the government but [also in] important and heartfelt changes for families of America."

    Fred Thompson, who needs a good showing in South Carolina to revive his campaign, on Friday also expressed support for Congress passing an economic stimulus package. He prefers an increase in the child tax credit, tax rebates or a decrease in the amount the government withholds from employees' paychecks.

    But the former Tennessee senator worried that lawmakers would load up the stimulus package "like a Christmas tree."

    "We need to make sure we know what we're talking about before we rush in and increase the debt," Thompson told CNN. "On the Hill, and everybody in Washington, wants to rush willy-nilly, you know, at some of these packages that will cost billions and billions of dollars. We need to make sure we're targeting them in the right way."

    Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who won the Iowa caucuses with a message of economic populism, suggested to CNN on Friday that he, too, would be open to some form of a tax rebate -- but warned that any stimulus package should not turn into a "major government bailout." Video Watch Huckabee discuss his concerns about the federal debt »

    "It's not enough to cut taxes." Huckabee said. "You've got to cut the spending that goes along with it. We're $9 trillion into debt. The federal government is not a good example for American consumers who have a debt issue right now because the federal government is the worst offender of all when it comes to spending money it doesn't have."


    Speaking Thursday during a campaign stop in Huger, South Carolina, Huckabee didn't reveal any stimulus plans -- just an "I told you so."

    "I was probably the one candidate to say -- particularly in my party -- we had some economic challenges," Huckabee said. "Now a few months later all of them are saying, 'Gosh, we have some economic challenges.' They would have known that a long time ago if they had gotten out of Washington and the ivory towers." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    All About Economic IssuesJohn McCainMitt RomneyMike Huckabee

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