Friday, April 27, 2007

Obama, Clinton Shine as Democratic Candidates Appeal to Public in ‘Low-Key’ First Debate

Democratic presidential hopefuls flashed their anti-war credentials Thursday night, heaping criticism on President Bush's Iraq policy in the first debate of the 2008 campaign.

Of the eight foes participating in the debate at South Carolina State University, four voted earlier in the day to support legislation that cleared Congress and requires the beginning of a troop withdrawal by Oct. 1. The legislation sets a goal of a complete withdrawal by April 1, 2008.

"We are one signature away from ending this war," said Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). He said if Bush won't change his mind about vetoing the bill, Democrats need to work on rounding up enough Republican votes to override him.

"The first day, I would get us out of Iraq by diplomacy," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, one of eight rivals on the debate stage.

this president does not get us out of Iraq, when I am president, I will," pledged Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

But Clinton found herself on the receiving end of criticism moments later when former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said she or anyone else who voted to authorize the war should "search their conscience."

Edwards, in the Senate at the time, also cast his vote for the invasion, but he has since apologized for it.

In addition to Obama and Clinton, Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut also cast votes in favor of the legislation.

Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio also participated in the debate, lesser-funded contenders who seemed most eager to challenge their rivals.

Reviews of the candidates' performances were consistent in describing the debate as "low-key."

Joe Scarborough, a political commentator with MSNBC, said in his post-debate analysis that "Clinton, Edwards and Obama have done what is required to get out of the first debate. Hillary Clinton should be the next Democratic nominee for president if she avoids big mistakes. Tonight, she did."

Before the debate, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed Clinton currently favored by 36 percent of the respondents, while Obama came in at 31 percent.

But over 400 South Carolinians polled afterward said Obama bested his Democratic colleagues, according to a SurveyUSA poll. Obama was chosen as the winner by 31 percent of those who said they watched the debate, while Clinton finished in second place, picked as the winner by 24 percent of viewers.

Debbie Parker, a resident of Columbia, South Carolina who attended the debate, said she felt the discussion was heavy on the Iraq war and that terrorism should have been given equal attention.

According to Parker, the recent events at Virginia Tech highlighted the need for more discussion on gun control. She also wanted to hear more about education.
"Public education is under attack in our country, and there needs to be more focus on supporting it," Parker told

Colorado state Sen. Peter C. Groff, publisher of and executive director of the Center for African American Policy at the University of Denver, said the debate will have a far-reaching impact.

"The significance of this debate is a sign of black political maturity and power in the 21st century," Groff told

"There was a time when Iowa and New Hampshire appeared to be the center of the political universe during primary season," he said. "Now, there is much attention and light cast on a state where African-Americans account for nearly half the entire Democratic primary vote. The African-American political community, including the CBC, state legislators and local elected officials, need to gain some mileage from that."

"Obviously, this is the most important constituency in a state of growing legitimacy in the entire primary," Groff added. "Hence, African-American voters nationwide should be pleased by the unprecedented amount of attention. Hopefully, this will someday translate into substantive public policy addressing real challenges in the community."

Earlier Thursday, the Clinton campaign announced the endorsement of Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and named her a co-chair of Clinton’s national campaign. Tubbs is one of the first members of the Congressional Black Caucus to officially endorse a presidential candidate.

"I am proud to be an early supporter of Hillary’s candidacy," Rep. Tubbs Jones said in a statement. "While the Democratic party has many talented candidates, Hillary has the experience, leadership and vision to make this country a global leader once again. This country is ready for change, and I believe Hillary is the right person at the right time to initiate that change."

Bush is barred by the Constitution from running for re-election next fall, and the result is an extraordinarily early start to the campaign to succeed him.

The debate -- nine months before the kickoff Iowa caucuses -- was 90 minutes long without opening or closing statements from the candidates or commercial interruption. A similar format awaits GOP candidate next Thursday.

A ground rule limiting answers to 60 seconds made for a rapid-fire debate but prevented follow-up questions when any of the eight sidestepped -- as when Clinton and Biden avoided saying whether they agreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's assessment that the Iraq war is lost.

Republicans rebutted from a distance.

"On every issue, from the war on terror to keeping our taxes low and our economy strong, Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and others are out of touch with the values of the people of South Carolina and all of America," GOP chairman Robert Duncan said in a statement issued moments after the debate ended.

While Iraq dominated the debate's early moments, Edwards was asked about having paid for a $400 haircut from campaign donations rather than from his own wallet.

"That was a mistake, which we remedied," he said. A wealthy former trial lawyer, Edwards recalled once having gone to dinner at a restaurant as a young child and having to leave because his father could not afford the prices.

"I've not forgotten where I came from," he said.

Five of the eight -- Gravel, Biden, Dodd, Kucinich and Richardson -- raised their hands when moderator Brian Williams of NBC News asked whether they had ever had a gun in their home.

Asked about a recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld a ban on so-called partial birth abortions, several of the contenders replied they would not impose a litmus test on their own nominees to the high court. At the same time, they stressed their support for abortion rights and said their appointees to the bench would reflect that.

"Any of my appointments to the high court would necessarily reflect my thinking," said Kucinich, who did not mention that he opposed abortion rights until switching positions before he ran for the White House in 2004.

There were moments of levity, as when Williams referred to Biden's reputation for "verbosity" and asked whether he had the discipline to be a player on the world stage.

"Yes," the Delaware lawmaker replied with uncharacteristic brevity.

Perhaps because the campaign is still in its early stages, there was little cross-stage criticism.

Kucinich challenged Obama at one point for once having said all options were on the table with respect to Iran. "You're setting the stage for another war," the Ohio lawmaker said.

"I think it would be a profound mistake for us to initiate a war with Iran," Obama replied. "But have no doubt, Iran possessing nuclear weapons will be a major threat to us and to the region."

Clinton made the first mention of her husband, the former president, about 40 minutes into the debate. Responding to a question about the recent shooting spree at Virginia Tech, she began by saying, "I remember very well when I accompanied Bill to Columbine," the Colorado high school that was the scene of another shooting spree a decade ago.

On another issue, several of the contenders talked of the need to expand health care coverage, and Obama sketched a few details of a plan that critics have said is light on specifics.

He said he would allow the uninsured to buy into a plan like federal employees have, improve technology to cut costs and provide government-funded catastrophic insurance.

Not surprisingly, Bush's Iraq war policy found no supporters on the debate stage.

"I am proud that I opposed this war from the start," said Obama, a jab at those on the stage who voted to authorize the invasion.

"The president has a fundamentally flawed policy," said Biden. "The president should start off by not vetoing the legislation he says he will veto."

Dodd said Bush was pursuing a "failed policy."

Kucinich jabbed at the senators on stage, saying it made no sense to oppose the war and then turn around and vote for more money as they did. The Ohio lawmaker voted against the legislation that cleared Congress earlier in the day.

Date: Friday, April 27, 2007By: Associated Press and
Onyekachi Ogba, a student at Claflin University, contributed to this story.

1 comment:

merjoem32 said...

The recent Democratic debate was indeed centered on the war. This is an indication on how much the war will influence the result of the recent election 2008 polls. A worsening Iraq situation will certainly favor the Democratic candidates and the withdrawal that they support.