(CNS) - In the sweltering heat of a 99 degree afternoon near Washington, D.C., Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes addressed a crowd of some 500 conservative activists July Fourth, using the themes of colonial independence to bolster his positions on the economy, education, abortion and the federal tax code.
Invoking the "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" passage from the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Forbes declared that "Life is sacred from conception to natural death," bringing sustained applause and cheers from attendees at the Conservative Soiree, sponsored by a coalition of think tanks and activist organizations.
The millionaire publisher defined liberty as giving people the freedom to chose health care options and schools for their children, telling the crowd that some public schools today "don't educate our children and in fact, too often undermine the morals and values that we try to teach our children at home."
Forbes also said that workers should have the liberty to chose between the traditional Social Security retirement program and one that lets people funnel their Social Security tax withholdings into private retirement accounts.
The two-time presidential candidate also hammered away on his plan to scrap the Internal Revenue Service replace it with a flat tax, saying that the burdens of the federal tax code prevent families from fully pursuing happiness and promising to "kill it, drive a stake through its heart, bury it and hope it never rises again to terrorize the American people."
Forbes also tied the tax code to American culture, repeating his plan to eliminate the marriage penalty, a situation in which many two-income families pay more in taxes than if they were single.
"One (parent) works for the family, one of you works for the government," said Forbes. "You should have the freedom to make those quality of life decisions. Then, we can avoid the tragedies of the future like Columbine," a reference to the Colorado high school in which two teenagers killed a dozen fellow students and a teacher this spring before taking their own lives.
While Forbes was greeting conservative activists in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, four of his rivals were stumping in the only somewhat-cooler environs of New Hampshire, home of the first primary of the 2000 presidential nomination process.
Texas Governor George W. Bush, the GOP leader in terms of both money raised and opinion polls, spent part of July Fourth at a parade in Amherst, New Hampshire, where he greeted fellow presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole with a kiss.
Candidates Patrick Buchanan and Gary Bauer also spent Independence Day campaigning in New Hampshire, crossing the state to meet voters and take part in various July Fourth celebrations.
While Bush's status as the frontrunner did not creep into Forbes' remarks, other candidates discounted the Texas governor's apparent early advantage, with Dole noting that some public opinion polls show her ahead of Vice President Al Gore in a head-to-head run-off.
The former Red Cross president was joined by Bauer and Buchanan in raising the campaign finance reform issue, with all three calling for an end to unregulated "soft money" contributions to political organizations.
However, soft money contributions cannot be made to individual candidates for president, and unregulated contributions played no part in Bush's record-breaking fundraising effort, which has already netted more than $36 million for his campaign treasury, far more than any of his GOP rivals.