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Posted at 8:02 PM ET, 04/16/2008

Pennsylvania Democratic Debate

By Michael Dobbs

9:50 p.m.

Both the McCain and Clinton campaigns are accusing Obama of giving a misleading answer to Charlie Gibson about whether his handwriting was on a questionnaire that reported him as favoring a complete ban on handguns. The Obama campaign has said that a staffer "mischaracterized" the senator's views while filling up answers to the questionnaire without Obama's input. You can see the questionnaire here. Obama's handwriting is on the first page, but tonight he said flatly, "no, my writing was not on that particular questionnaire."

There were, in fact, two versions of the questionnaire, filed under Obama's name in 1996 when he was running for the Illinois State Senate. One version has Obama's handwriting on it, one does not. Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor subsequently told Politico that the senator scribbled a few notes on the first page of the questionnaire, but did not read the response to the question about banning handguns, on a subsequent page.

Either way, it seems a rather lame explanation.

9:40 p.m.

Obama mentioned that 34 schoolchildren were killed in Chicago from gun violence. This indeed happened in the 2006-2007 school year, but Obama often compares this figure to the number of Illinois soldiers killed in Iraq, saying the number of school children is higher. Time Magazine crunched the numbers last year. It found that, when put in context, the death rate for Illinois soldiers in Iraq is 10 times the death rate for Chicago schoolchildren. There are 109,000 Chicago school children. Thirty four dead is equivalent to three per 10,000, compared to 30 per 10,000 for the soldiers. See the Time report here.
--Glenn Kessler

9:20 p.m.

Charlie Gibson twice challenged Obama on the question of why he might consider raising capital gains taxes when, he claimed, cuts in the tax always results in increases in revenues. Gibson must be unduly worried about his stock portfolio. Gibson is right that a cut in capital gains taxes results in a brief increase in revenue, but that's only because stockholders decide to unload some stocks they have held in the new tax regime; there is less incentive to sell the stock if you know the rate is going to soon drop.

But it really is only a temporary problem, according to a 2002 study by the Congressional Budget Office. "The potentially large difference between the long- and short-term sensitivity of realizations to tax rates can mislead observers into assuming a greater permanent responsiveness than actually exists," the study noted. "Because of the other influences on realizations, the relationship between them and tax rates can be hard to detect and easy to confuse with other phenomena."--Glenn Kessler.

8.55 p.m.

A questioner quotes from an exchange that I had with Clinton spokesman a couple of weeks ago. Howard Wolfson responded with a flat "Yes" when I asked him whether Clinton would stick with her timetable for withdrawing virtually all combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2009 whatever the circumstances on the ground and whatever the advice from her military commanders. You can read the exchange here. Asked whether Wolfson had indeed reflected her position, Clinton said "yes," but then she hedged a little. She talked about "beginning" the troop withdrawal within 60 days, but did not commit herself to completing the withdrawal by the end of 2009, a much more difficult goal to achieve.

Gibson and Stephanopoulos missed the opportunity to pin her down more precisely. They failed to ask the obvious question: what will she do if the U.S. withdrawal triggers massive ethnic bloodletting, even genocide, in Iraq? Does she really mean that she will pull 1-2 brigades out every month regardless of the consequences?

8:40 p.m

Asked about his relationship with the former Weatherman William Ayers, Obama questions the notion of guilt by association. He points out that he is also friendly with Tom Coburn, a Republican congressman who has advocated the death penalty for doctors who practice abortion. He disagrees with Coburn, but feels no need to apologize for his views, so why should he apologize for the 40-year-old actions of Ayers? It is a fair point, but the two cases are not exactly equivalent. Ayers contributed $200 to an Obama Illinois senate re-election campaign fund in 2001. As far as I know, Coburn has never contributed money to Obama, and can hardly be described as a political supporter.

According to Politico, Ayers also hosted a political event for Obama in 1995 with his wife Bernadine Dohrn, another former member of the radical weathermen group. The purpose of the event was to help launch Obama's campaign for the Illinois State Senate.

8:35 p.m.

Now it's Clinton's turn to eat humble pie about her Bosnia sniper comments. She acknowledges that she gave a misleading, exaggerated account of her March 1996 trip to Tuzla on more than one occasion. She initially insisted that she "misspoke" only once, late at night, when she was exhausted, a claim repeated by her husband on the campaign trail. Tonight, she concedes she has been less than accurate on "a few occasions."

8:30 p.m.

Charlie Gibson's question to Barack Obama about exactly when he heard offensive remarks from Rev. Wright puts the Land-of-Lincolner on the spot. Gibson asks Obama to explain why he disinvited Wright from blessing his presidential campaign a year ago, but failed to speak out publicly against him until very recently. Obama tried to draw a distinction between generally controversial remarks from Wright and the specific remarks that have been playing over and over again on YouTube, including the GD America comment. He seems to be walking a very fine line. He failed to clear up precisely why he withdrew the invitation to Wright. Clinton twisted the knife by saying that the choice of pastor is a personal choice, and she would not have remained a member of Wright's congregation.


Join me for a live fact check of tonight's Democratic Debate from Pennsylvania. I am joined by diplomatic reporter Glenn Kessler and researcher Alice Crites. With just six days to go before the Pennsylvania primary, it promises to be an exciting evening. Use the comments section or the Contact the Fact Checker tool to point out any errors on the part of the candidates.

By Michael Dobbs  | April 16, 2008; 8:02 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama, Live Fact Check  
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Next: Paying for the Iraq War

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