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In Tame Democratic Debate, Respite From Political Wars

All smiles at the Democratic debate in Des Moines. (Getty).

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

By Washington Post editors  |  December 13, 2007; 6:29 PM ET
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Malise, I agree we should pay more attention to our artists, they have an efficient way of highlighting the truth at the heart of our existence.

In fact, Joseph Campbell said that artists, poets, and storytellers are the prophets and seers of their own centuries.

Consider the film Napoleon Dynamite. It tells the story of an election won by candidate who had the best campaign gimmick. Air filled objects, a football and a tether ball, appear repeatedly in the film. I leave it to readers to identify the real life candidate who has a gas filled object as a campaign gimmick. I suggest the film predicts he wins!

Now, I return to politics.

I think a Paul vs. Obama campaign would be very focused on issues and avoid character assassinations.

Paul has never resorted to such tactics, and it would be fruitless for Obama to try it against Paul's record of integrity. Just go to Youtube and listen to Paul's radio ads. There is no name-calling or ad hominem attacks.

Paul can tap 4,000 mothers whose children he delivered as character references if Obama tried any mudslinging. Paul's rebuttal to negative campaigning could be a cohort of African American mothers he served in his career as an OB-GYN who can attest to his character. MLK, jr., told us to judge a person by the contents of his character and not the exterior packaging.

In light of Paul's stance questioning the efficacy of the war on drugs, Paul is not likely to make a big stink out of past drug use. As a medical doctor he probably knows questions to ask that would reveal addiction damage. For example, a question needing responses to multiple points would reveal memory impairment, if any. We the People can assess mental adequacy based on debate responses alone and ignore drug history 20 years ago.

I would rather see brain scans required of all candidates to assure mental health than pester a candidate about past usage.

An issue focused campaign between these two gentlemen, itself, could go a long way to unifying the country.

Further unification would occur if the winner invites the loser into his cabinet just as Lincoln assembled his cabinet.

Obama could serve as Secretary of State in a Paul cabinet, and display his unification skills as he repairs America's damaged international relations. His service in a Paul administration would groom him as a successor to Paul in subsequent presidential elections.

In reverse, Paul could serve as Treasury Secretary in an Obama cabinet to reform the Federal Reserves's roll in our economy. His economic expertise would be just what the doctor ordered to improve the future solvency of the nation.

I just see a Paul vs Obama contest as a win-win situation for America. Our history of racial division will be behind us and our future prosperity will be improved.

Come on, We the People, let's not allow such a golden opportunity to escape U.S.

It would be sad, so sad if we did.

Posted by: Scrooge | December 15, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Part of Frosts poem to Kennedy when he won. And it could apply today!

The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young amibition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

Posted by: malise.tepera | December 14, 2007 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Results at last!!! After Dems spent half their campaigning dog fighting each other, with each blaming the other, they have finally looked at their voters feedback and found out that all the jabbing was unwelcomed. Voters are interested in ALL the important issues that face our nation and want specific, detailed information of the positions on eash issue of each candidate. This is not too much to ask and voters must/wish/should have this precise info to make an informed vote. Those candidates who avoided getting their position and message out and pursued the hype, garbage, and soundbites may not prevail in the primary, and especially the general election. We will see soon!!! Monty Ousley Weddell

Posted by: jhutt123 | December 14, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse

"...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."

So this sort of smear is change, change that Hillary is showing she works to achieve? Seems more like deja vu all over again.

Where's the competence in organizing a disciplined campaign that's supposed to arise from experience?

Posted by: FirstMouse | December 14, 2007 7:31 AM | Report abuse

We the People, please make a Paul vs. Obama matchup happen. I would find anything else borrringgg.

Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 5:50 AM | Report abuse

"How would your leadership get the 300 Bus Drivers to show up?"

The replies to this question by both Paul and Obama could be as memorable as Lincoln's House Divided argument in his Lincoln-Douglas debates

Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 5:39 AM | Report abuse

Connect the two previous comments to this one:

Ron Paul vs. Barack Obama would be an election for the ages!
Just think, the story of the 300 Bus Drivers could be an element in the history to be written about the 2008 campaign, as was the 300 Spartans in the Greco-Persian War.

A question for the two candidates to debate: How would your leadership get the 300 Bus Drivers to show up?

Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 5:27 AM | Report abuse

Time to liven things up!

The picture of 300 flooded school buses in a New Orleans parking lot after Katrina is all the evidence I need to prove that a government program will not save your butt. The emergency plan for New Orleans said that school buses would be used for evacuation. When it didn't happen, everyone blamed Bush, but did anyone ask why didn't the 300 bus drivers show up? No, they did not. I guess they were expecting Bush clones to drive the buses, similar to the star troopers cloned by the Empire in the Star Wars movies (Some people must have trouble distinguishing fiction from fact.)

In contrast to that photo, there was a story of a young man who stole one of those buses to save his family and neighbors. His example proves Ron Paul's message of freedom and self-responsibility. If you want a compassionate society, you have to be compassionate yourself and act when someone is in need. You cannot sit on your duff, and expect a clone of the president, essentially any bureaucrat, to act in your place.

We recently had a popular movie about 300 Spartans who acted to save their community. We need a movie about 300 Bus Drivers who failed their community in New Orleans. It would reveal what seriously ails U.S.

Thank God there is a chance for a good doctor to be in the White House, Dr. Ron Paul, to cure what ails U.S.

The Paul Revolution can take heart from this poem related to the Grecian war with Persia.

"Forward, sons of the Greeks,
Liberate the fatherland, liberate
Your children, your women, the altars of the gods of your fathers
And the graves of your forebears:
Now is the fight for everything."

Any chance to get a movie made about 300 Bus Drivers? Maybe in a couple thousand years. But you can vote in 2008 for Ron Paul.

Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 4:54 AM | Report abuse

Hillary is just another slick talking used car salesperson wearing threadbare, shiny pants but no undergarments.

Hillary authored book It Takes a Village. What does she know about that subject when she sure didn't help the village of Washington, D.C. improve its miserable public school system? Chelsea went to private schools. Why didn't Hillary enroll Chelsea in a public school and then work as First Mother through the PTA to improve the quality of the school system. She might have obtained real credentials to qualify her as a transformative leader.

This book and her abdication of responsibility to improve the schools of the village which she resided in for 8 years is proof positive she is a Five Star hyprocrite just chomping at the bit to take over control of Uncle Sam's plantation. You loyal serfs shouldn't expect things to improve for you. Just take a good look at D.C. schools' improvement while she was a resident there. Washington, D.C. is the Village of the Federal Government.

As First Lady of that village, why didn't she work hard during her entire residency there to make a lasting improvement in the school system?

I hope Barack Obama asks her that question in a debate.

Hillary's candidacy and her book deserve to be thrown into the dustbin of history.

I rest my case.

P.S. to strengthen an earlier analysis that the election of 1860 foreshadows the election of 2008 (see thread ), it would be stunning if Barack Obama, Senator from Illinois is nominated by the Democrats to oppose Ron Paul. In 1860, Abe Lincoln defeated Stephen Douglas, a Senator from Illinois. It would also be fitting that an African American be the challenger against Honest Ron, a man of the same integrity to principles as Honest Abe. That would make for one exciting campaign that would galvanize the attention of the entire electorate.

Republicans I dare you to nominate Ron Paul, likewise I dare Democrats to nominate Barack Obama. Such a matchup would electrify the country like the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral on November 1, 1938, almost 70 years ago to the day of the election, Nov.4.

Go ahead, just do it! I dare both parties.

Posted by: Scrooge | December 14, 2007 4:38 AM | Report abuse

What a FRAUD! The only two people worth a damn in that party (Gravel and Kucinich) were excluded from the debate. Of course there were no arguments, because none of these stooges will ever risk their political necks to do the right thing. It's all about getting that campaign money, and getting reelected.

I've had enough of this phony party, and I hope the independents clean their clocks this time!

Posted by: randomq | December 14, 2007 1:30 AM | Report abuse

"The uproar overshadowed the last Democratic debate..."

Ridiculous. It's overblown trivia nobody gives a crap about without Anne and Dan, among others, running around clutching their hankies over it all day.

Posted by: zukermand | December 13, 2007 11:50 PM | Report abuse

very good debate. I wanted a little more discussion on immigration and war. I was an undecided between Obama, Hillary and Biden. I think I am finalizing on Hillary. she looked focussed, talked about issues the way I wanted to hear and I think she will fight for the causes. That does NOT mean Obama or Edwards or Biden is bad, but I think she is the one who will get the job done.

Posted by: chris29 | December 13, 2007 11:03 PM | Report abuse

I usually don't vote in online polls because they are too easy to manipulate but I found it very interesting that both the CNN & Fox undecided voters focus groups thought Edwards won todays debate. They were very impressed with his authenticity and his message. In the Fox group I believe Obama came in 2nd and in the CNN group Hillary came in 2nd. I think Edwards supporters should be very happy with these results.

Posted by: pmorlan1 | December 13, 2007 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Who won the Des Moines Register Democratic Debate in Iowa?


Posted by: jeffboste | December 13, 2007 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Who won the Des Moines Register Republican Debate in Iowa?


Posted by: jeffboste | December 13, 2007 6:33 PM | Report abuse

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