In Tame Democratic Debate, Respite From Political Wars
DES MOINES -- New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's New Hampshire co-chairman resigned his position Thursday under fire for having asserted that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would be vulnerable to Republican attacks in a general election because of his drug use as a youth.
The uproar overshadowed the last Democratic debate before the caucuses, which was held Thursday afternoon under the auspices of the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television.
The decision by Bill Shaheen, the husband of former governor and current Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen, came hours after Clinton had personally apologized to Obama and after a barrage of criticism outside and inside the Clinton campaign over what Shaheen had said during an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday.
Obama's campaign suggested that Shaheen's remarks were part of a strategy to undermine the Illinois senator's candidacy in the final weeks before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary. The Obama campaign's manager sent out a fundraising appeal, urging supporters to show their outrage by contributing to the campaign.
Shaheen had earlier apologized for his comments and Clinton officials said the remarks were neither authorized nor part of a deliberate strategy to personally attack the Illinois senator. Officials said Clinton was personally outraged when she heard about the remarks on Wednesday and they described the mood inside the campaign as one of distress.
The debate itself proved to be a 90-minute respite from the political wars raging here and in New Hampshire. There were no sharp exchanges and only a few gentle jibes. The candidates found general agreement by promising voters that, if they are elected president, they will end the Iraq war, raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, enact universal health care and curb the use of foreign oil.
The closest any of the front-running candidates came to engaging with one another was when Clinton alluded to her leading rivals here in Iowa -- Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards -- by suggesting that she is better equipped to make the kinds of significant changes many Democratic voters are looking for in a new president.
"Everybody on this stage has an idea about how to get change. Some believe you get change by demanding it, some believe you get it by hoping for it," she said. "I believe you get it by working hard for change. That's what I've done my entire life. That's what I will do as president."
Obama has campaigned on the theme of hope and change and polls of Iowa voters show they put a higher priority on finding a candidate who represents fresh ideas and a new direction rather than someone whose main asset is experience. America can meet its challenges, he said, only if "we have the courage to change, if we can bring the country together, if we can push back against the special interests, and if we level with the American people about how we're going to solve our problems."
Edwards has also made change a main theme of his candidacy but has taken a more pugnacious approach, arguing that the only way to change Washington is with a fight against the special interests.
"We have a small group of entrenched interests, corporate powers, corporate greed, the most wealthy people in America, who are controlling what's happening in the democracy, and we have to take it back starting right here in Iowa," Edwards said.
Clinton, Obama and Edwards are in a three-way race in Iowa, but Thursday's debate also gave the other three top Democrats -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut -- an opportunity to make their cases to Iowa voters on the same stage.
Biden drew one of the toughest questions when he was asked by moderator Carolyn Washburn, the Register editor, about past gaffes that suggested racial and ethnic insensitivity.
Biden responded with an impassioned statement, defending his record and commitment on civil rights issues and claiming his political support in Delaware is built on loyalty from minority voters. "My credentials are as good as anyone who's ever run for president of the United States on civil rights," he said.
Obama, who was on the receiving end of one of Biden's gaffes early in the campaign, immediately joined the conversation to defend his Senate colleague and rival. "I have absolutely no doubt about what is in his heart and the commitment that he has made with respect to racial equality in this country," he said.
Dodd, who has struggled along with Biden and Richardson to get more attention, used a moment in the debate to appeal to Iowans not to be swayed by big money or the media. "This isn't about wealth or celebrity," he said. "It's about choosing the best candidate who can win and who will lead our country.
Among the softer questions was the last, in which each candidate was asked to say a few words about the Iowa caucus process. Richardson told Iowans he liked them because they "like underdogs."
"You don't like the national media and the smarty-pants telling you who's going to be the next president," Richardson said.
But the off-camera discussion continued to swirl around Clinton and Obama. After the debate, the spin room turned into a press scrum around Mark Penn, the chief strategist for Clinton, and David Axelrod, who serves the same function for Obama. And the Clinton campaign issued a statement from Shaheen announcing his decision to step down before the candidates had even left the facility, all but guaranteeing it would dominate the day's news.
"I would like to reiterate that I deeply regret my comments yesterday and say again that they were in no way authorized by Senator Clinton or the Clinton campaign," Shaheen said in the statement. "Senator Clinton has been running a positive campaign focused on the issues that matter to America 's families. She is the best qualified to be the next President of the United States because she can lead starting on day one. I made a mistake and in light of what happened, I have made the personal decision that I will step down as the Co-Chair of the Hillary for President campaign."
Struggling to gain an edge among women in Iowa, Clinton is launching two new advertisements -- one featuring her mother vouching for her, another showing images of her daughter. Chelsea Clinton, 27, also joined her mother for the debate, just days after making her first appearance on the campaign trail.
--Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post editors
December 13, 2007; 6:29 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: John McCain's Big Tease
Next: Clinton N.H. Official Resigns After Comments on Obama
Posted by: Scrooge | December 15, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: malise.tepera | December 14, 2007 11:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jhutt123 | December 14, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FirstMouse | December 14, 2007 7:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 5:50 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 5:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 5:27 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 4:54 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 4:38 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: randomq | December 14, 2007 1:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: zukermand | December 13, 2007 11:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: chris29 | December 13, 2007 11:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pmorlan1 | December 13, 2007 8:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jeffboste | December 13, 2007 6:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jeffboste | December 13, 2007 6:33 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.