Sunday, August 19, 2007

Live Blogging From the Debate

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 519

Coming to you live from the press filing center at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa for coverage of this morning's Democratic Presidential Debate.

9:23 - that's it for the debate. On to the spin room!

9:19 - question on turning points in candidate's life. Kucinich says it was living in a car as a child. Obama says it was going from high school to college. Biden says involvement in civil rights movement was pivotal. Richardson says his marriage was decisive moment in his life, then 9/11. Gravel says pivotal moment came when he realized that the people are the central power of government. Edwards says it was when he found his father watching educational TV to better himself. Dodd says the Peace Corps was pivotal. Clinton says the women's movement was crucial for her.

9:15 - question on interest rate reductions for banks. Clinton says help is needed for families in foreclosure. Dodd says more market liquidity is needed. Edwards echoes Clinton on foreclosures. Gravel is Gravel. Richardson says problem is also with mortgage lenders. Biden says there's as much trouble in mortgage lending as there was in savings and loans in the 1980s. Obama says more liquidity is needed, but also more accountability. Kucinich says loan practices need to be revamped across the board.

9:07 - question on performance-based pay for teachers. Dodd says he would devote more resources, including pay, for teachers who volunteer to go into troubled schools. Obama says teachers should be given buy-in on how and when incentives are given for performance. Clinton supports incentives school-wide, but not from one teacher to another. Richardson says he would scrap No Child Left Behind. Gravel launches tirade on how poor US education system is, then stumbles badly and draws derisive laughter. Time for him to go, I think.

9:00 - back from commercial. Email question on when candidates have been less than truthful. Gravel says other candidates are all liars and hypocrites. Biden says he's always spoken his mind in public, often too much (big laughs in the press room). Kucinich says he's always truthful. Obama talks about climate change and sacrifice. Edwards goes back to his Iraq vote and apology, and how conflicted he felt about authorizing the war. Clinton says she regrets giving President Bush authority to go to war in Iraq, ad wouldn't vote that way again, but thought at the time she truthfully thought she was making the right vote. Richardson says he makes about one mistake a week, and he's not the scripted candidate, but he gets the job done. Dodd says he wishes he'd done more to defeat the Military Commissions Act last year.

8:49 - question on support for small farms and farmers. Dodd says tougher anti-trust enforcement is needed. Edwards says trade policy on agriculture has failed - good for large corporations and bad for American workers. Clinton agrees with Edwards, says we need more focus on family farms, should maximize our advantages as an exporter of agricultural products to obtain advantages for America. Obama says we should limit subsidies for large agribusiness companies. Richardson has a chance to answer, but can't get it in before a commercial.

8:43 - email question about whether the candidates believe in a personal God and prayer. Hillary believes in prayer. So does Dodd. Edwards says he prays every day. Gravel believes in love. Richardson says he's Catholic and prays, but that faith should be a personal matter, not imposed on others. Biden also says pro-prayer things. Obama believes in the power of prayer. Kucinich quotes Bible verses, says faith must be augmented by good works.

I know it's Sunday morning in the Heartland, but I can't believe how much debate time was consumed on this question.

8:41 - Kucinich again goes after his fellow Democrats for authorizing and funding the war. He must think that this tactic will work for him, but the results don't bear him out so far. Press room starts laughing towards the end of his statement.

8:38 - Obama says there are only bad options and worse options on getting out of Iraq. Compares senators who voted to authorize going to war in Iraq with Rumsfeld and Cheney. Says partition of Iraq needs to originate with the Iraqis, not the US.

8:37 - Biden cites the Balkans as an example of how his approach can work. Says combat troops will need to stay to protect US civilians.

8:35 - Richardson takes the initiative and asks question directly to Biden and Clinton about how many residual troops should be left in Iraq after combat forces are withdrawn. Biden answers by detailing his four point plan for Iraq.

8:34 - Edwards says it would take 9 or 10 months to get troops out of Iraq, but any Democratic president will end the war, in contrast to the GOP field, which he characterizes as "George Bush on steroids."

8:33 - Gravel says he disagrees with everybody on Iraq. Much chuckling in the press room.

8:30 - Clinton emphasizes no military solution, says Iraqis are too busy jockeying for power to deliver a political solution. Getting out of Iraq will be complicated, says military planners tend to agree with Biden over Richardson. Tactical error: speaking as arbiter between two of her opponents.

8:27 - Biden gets free media for his latest commercial on Iraq. Richardson says get all troops out of Iraq by the end of the year is the best policy. Biden responds that how we leave Iraq will influence American interest for a generation, asks how the 5,000 US civilians in the green zone would be protected with all troops gone.

8:25 - Kucinich dodges the question of whether special interest influence in politics by saying he's being excluded from the debate, then launches into single-payer health care.

8:24 - Dodd also backs public financing.

8:23 - Clinton comes out for public financing of elections as the answer to the influence of money in politics. Edwards says "take these people on and beat them" is the way to get special interest influence out of politics.

8:20 - Clinton turns the "high negatives/Karl Rove" question around by saying that Rove doesn't like her is that she knows how to beat Republicans. She hit that one out of the park.

8:19 - Edwards goes for the change card, too, and reintroduces the populist rhetoric of the past week.

8:16 - moderator plays sound clip of Karl Rove saying Clinton can't be elected. Obama waives it away. Says country's problems are bipartisan, needs to be solved by changing politics in Washington, and again waives away question on Clinton's part in bad politics in Washington.

8:15 -Richardson disavows first use of nuclear weapons, emphasizes diplomacy, proposes a treaty on fissionable material.

8:14 - Mike Gravel launches into an indictment of US policy on Iran.

8:11 - Edwards answers the Pakistan question with "What happened to hope and optimism?," going right at Obama. Says he wouldn't talk in hypotheticals about use of nuclear weapons, but says he would lead an effort to eliminate all nuclear weapons world-wide.

8:10 - now its Cinton's chance to draw sharp differences on foreign policy, and again it's a Clinton - Obama argument.

8:07: Obama finally gets his turn. Starts by softening the differences on foreign policy, then returns to the Pakistan question to go at Clinton specifically. Look for this to happen many times this morning: Obama focusing on Clinton and bypassing other candidates.

8:05- Richardson jumps in saying that he's the ideal balance of change and experience, but dodges the question about whether he thinks Obama is ready to be president.

8:03 - same question to Biden now. "We have no Pakistan policy, we have a Musharraf policy." Doesn't back down from previous statements re: Obama.

8:02 - same question to Dodd. Obama doesn't look happy about this line of questioning.

8:01 - first question deals with experience, with particular reference to Obama and Clinton, a ricochet off of the foreign policy debate mentioned earlier. Clinton handles the question well, sticking to her own qualifications and mostly passing on the chance to rake Obama over the coals.

8:00 - candidates are on the stage, and the first word goes to...George Stephanopoulous.

7:30 - What's at Stake
With less than six months (anybody want to start a pool on what the exact date will end up being?) until the Iowa Caucus, the stakes for the candidates in this debate are enormous. This will be the first Iowa "close up," of the 2008 race, and all the work the various campaigns have done to define themselves and their opponents will be put to the test. Some things to watch:
Bill Richardson - his "Presidential Job Interview" ads have been well received, giving him a bump in the polls here and in New Hampshire, but he's been unimpressive in every debate thus far and his momentum has stalled as a result. Turning around his debate performance this morning is crucial for Richardson, and could make the difference between top tier and also ran.

  • Barack Obama - it is unusual for front runners to outline their foreign policy plans in detail during the campaign, and Obama's speech earlier this month provides a good illustration of why this is true. After stating he would launch military attacks inside Pakistan whether or not the government of that country consented, Obama has been smacked around from all sides. But he's often given as good as he's got, and the fight has served as a vehicle to sharpen differences between Obama and the other candidates. The question for this morning is whether this dynamic will continue to exert itself during this debate, and, if it does, how far Obama can wade into that fight without tarnishing his images as a different kind of candidate.
  • Hillary Clinton - she's turned in solid performances in every debate thus far, and another this morning could really help her in Iowa, as well as nationally. The usual challenge prevails for Clinton: showing steel and heart in equal measure.
  • John Edwards - Edwards continues to experiment with what tone will serve him best during the campaign. This past week has been all about populism during his just-concluded bus tour across the state, so look for that to continue this morning.
  • Biden and Dodd - with Labor Day looming, both candidates must be feeling desperate for a break out moment this morning, and that could lead to some surprises during the debate.

7:25 - there's a huge cheering section across University Avenue from the debate. Lots of signs and some really loud cheering. I'm sure that's going over well in the neighborhood...

7:21 - I've been credentialed to cover both the debate and the post-debate spin, so we'll be going wall-to-wall this morning. Interestingly, no media will be allowed inside the debate hall this morning, other than pool photographers, so we're relegated to a building a hundred yards or so from the action. But the spin room should be interesting...

7:07 - press center is still pretty empty. Someone remind me why it is these debates are being held early on Sunday morning? *mumble and sigh*


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