Democrats Get Schooled by Voters in Testy Debate

This post, written by Michael Roston, originally Raw Story

The Monday night Democratic presidential primary debate started out with a testy exchange between Alaska's Mike Gravel and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois that exemplified an early focus on the identities and broad visions of their candidacies.

"You're not going to see any change when any of these people get elected," Gravel said, before pointing to Senator Obama's promise that he wasn't taking money from political action committees and lobbyists.

"He has 134 bundlers, now what does he think that is?" Gravel added, before pointing to one particular donor.

Obama responded that Gravel was wrong on his facts.

"I don't take money from banks, from lobbyists," he said. "The reason you know about the bundlers is because I passed a law in this session."

The early exchange came in a debate hosted at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina. The state is home to an early southern primary election during next year's presidential campaign. The debate was moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper. All questions were submitted via YouTube by users of the website, and selected by CNN.

The participants, in addition to Gravel and Obama, were Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Other points in the debate also turned on questions of the candidate's identity and vision.

Senator Clinton was asked if she considered herself to be a liberal. She said the word had been abused by liberalism's critics.

"I prefer the word progressive," she answered. "I consider myself a modern progressive...who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms."

Clinton was also asked about whether the fact that she was a woman was important to her candidacy.

"I'm not running because I'm a woman," she answered. "I'm running because I"m most ready to hit the ground running in 2009."

A follow-up question was then directed to John Edwards, whose wife Elizabeth said last week that he was a better advocate for women than Clinton. He praised Clinton, but said that he was better on issues of importance to women because of his anti-poverty advocacy.

"More women are affected by the minimum wage than men are affected by the minimum wage....there are more women in poverty than men in poverty," he argued. "On the issues that most affect women, I have the strongest record."

Candidates juggle legalizing gay marriage

CNN later showed two videos with questioners asking about legalizing gay marriage. Rep. Dennis Kucinich gave an unequivocal 'yes' when asked if he would support gay marriage.

Senator Dodd said he supported civil unions, and Senator Edwards stuck to the notion that he would not enforce his personal beliefs that marriage is for a man and a woman via government law. In a sense, Edwards attempted to emote his way through the question.

"I have been an enormous journey on this issue, I feel enormous conflict about it," he remarked. "This is a very, very difficult issue for me."

Senator Obama chose a different path, differentiating between what the government and religious institutions should be allowed to do regarding same-sex marriage.

"The civil unions that I propose would make sure that all rights conferred by the state are equal for same sex couples as well as heterosexual couples," he said. "It's up to the individual denominations...[but] all those critical civil rights should be even."

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