Democratic debaters go after front-runner Hillary
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York was the clear target of her Democratic rivals Oct. 30 as the presidential hopefuls sparred on Iran, honesty in politics and whether illegal aliens should get driver’s licenses.
Mrs. Clinton was on the defensive for most of the debate at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and was accused in the last few moments of double-speak about illegals.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois opened the forum by saying today’s problems require “big, meaningful changes” that can be achieved by offering a “sharp contrast with the other party” and by fighting special interests.
“It doesn’t mean changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient,” he said, turning his attention to the former first lady.
Mrs. Clinton smiled wide when likened to Republicans — pointing out that at a recent debate of those candidates, she was the most frequent punching bag.
“I have been standing against the Republicans, George Bush and Dick Cheney,” she said. “I will continue to do so, and I think Democrats know that.”
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina blasted Mrs. Clinton’s vote in favor of a Senate resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and said it suggests she already is preparing for a “general election mode” against Republicans.
“I think that our responsibility as presidential candidates is to be in tell-the-truth mode all the time. We should not be saying something different in the primary than we say in the general election,” he said.
Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut opposed the Iran measure as saber-rattling, with Mr. Dodd saying the vote was “going to come back to haunt us.” Mr. Obama missed the vote but has since said the resolution sends the wrong signal to allies and enemies in the region.
Mr. Biden called it “bad policy” that has “hurt” the United States, while Mr. Edwards said the resolution “looks like it was written, literally, by the [neoconservatives].”
Mrs. Clinton dismissed their arguments as “missing the point”: “We’ve got to do everything we can to prevent George Bush and the Republicans from doing something on their own to take offensive military action against Iran. [. . . ] We’re not, in my view, rushing to war.”
Asked about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, Mrs. Clinton said the policy could make the streets safer and fills a “vacuum” left by the Bush administration for failing to pass a comprehensive immigration plan. She also called the Spitzer policy “an honest effort” to know who is in New York, but added it may not be the best plan.
Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama said her answers were inconsistent, though Mr. Obama said Mr. Spitzer has the “right idea” because it could make the roads safer. Mr. Dodd disagreed, saying a driver’s license is a “privilege not a right.”
Another defining moment came when co-host Tim Russert of NBC pressed Mrs. Clinton to say she would release some of her White House documents that former President Bill Clinton asked the National Archives to keep private until 2012.
She dodged the question, saying the documents are “becoming available.”
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was the only candidate to avoid a Clinton criticism, complaining it sounded like the others had a “holier-than-thou attitude” toward the front-runner.
“We need to be positive in this campaign. [. . . ] I think it’s impor- tant that we save the ammunition for the Republicans,” he said.
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio pushed his call for impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney and also admitted he had seen a UFO. Former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska did not participate, after organizers said he did not meet fundraising and polling thresholds.
Democratic presidential candidates met Oct. 30 in Philadelphia. From left: Sens. Christopher J. Dodd and Joseph R. Biden Jr., former Sen. John Edwards, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich and Gov. Bill Richardson.