(by Christina Bellantoni, WashingtonTimes.com) – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton last night retaliated against her two main challengers for the first time – saying neither has taken bold stances on the issues.

Mrs. Clinton, of New York, said in last night’s CNN debate that she is the most tested presidential candidate who can beat Republicans, and sharply criticized Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

“I don’t mind taking hits on my record on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it’s both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook,” said Mrs. Clinton, who began by joking that she prepared for debate combat by wearing a pantsuit made of asbestos.

She added, “Republicans are not going to vacate the White House voluntarily” and, “we need someone who is tested and ready to lead.”

Mrs. Clinton also blasted Mr. Obama’s health care plan because it does not, like her own, mandate coverage. Instead, he has proposed making coverage more affordable and mandating coverage for children.

“His plan would leave 15 million Americans out. That’s about the population of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire,” she said, referring to four of the first nominating states.

The debate included at times angry exchanges among the three major candidates, with the Democrats speaking over each other and appearing clearly frustrated.

Mr. Obama came out swinging, saying voters are seeking “straight answers to tough questions and that is not what we’ve seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues.”

“What I want to do in this campaign is make certain that we are breaking out of the gridlock and the partisanship and the standard practices of Washington and actually start listening to the American people to get things done,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton hit back with the health care argument. Next up was Mr. Edwards, who said the former first lady won’t bring change to Washington.

“She … continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and is … corrupted against the interest of most Americans and corrupted for a very small, very powerful, very well-financed group,” he said, repeating an argument that he uses on the campaign trail to push his universal health care plan, which he says will buck special interests.

Mrs. Clinton was quick to respond with a reminder: “When Senator Edwards ran in 2004, he wasn’t for universal health care. I’m glad he is now.”

Several candidates were visibly irritated during the first few exchanges, and there were moments when at least three candidates or moderator Wolf Blitzer were speaking at once.

“The American people don’t give a darn about any of this stuff that’s going on up here,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, going on to tout his own experience.

“They’re worried about whether or not their child is going to run into a drug dealer on the way to school. They’re worried about whether or not they’re going to be able to pay for their mortgage,” he said, “whether they’re going to keep their job. And they’re worried about whether their son in the National Guard’s going to get killed in Iraq.”

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut agreed the tone of the evening wouldn’t solve the nation’s problems. “We want a Democratic candidate who can unite our party. And I think if we waste time on the shrillness of this debate, then we lose the American people,” he said.

Some in the audience reacted with boos when Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards mentioned Mrs. Clinton.

Early in the debate, Mr. Obama jumped on Mrs. Clinton’s triangulation on whether illegal aliens should get driver’s licenses, saying: “It took not just that debate but two more weeks before we could [get] a clear answer, in terms of where her position was.”

But later, Mr. Obama was tripped up on the issue, saying it isn’t so simple.

“The problem we have here is not driver’s licenses. Undocumented workers do not come here to drive,” he said. “Instead of being distracted by what has now become a wedge issue, let’s focus on actually solving the problem that … the Bush administration had done nothing about.”

Asked again whether he supports or opposes licenses, he said: “I am not proposing that that’s what we do,” a nearly identical sidestep to what Mrs. Clinton did last month.

“This is the kind of question that is sort of available for a yes or no answer,” Mr. Blitzer said, prompting laughter from the audience.

Clinton adviser Mark Penn later told reporters that he was “surprised Obama didn’t come to the debate with an answer to that one.”

Obama adviser David Axelrod dismissed the license question as a “a phony debate.”

“Obviously, he’s not going to advance it as a proposal,” he said.

Mr. Axelrod also highlighted that Mrs. Clinton flip-flopped on the issue.

She answered simply “No” when asked whether she supported licenses for illegals even though she said she initially supported New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to allow the licenses.

Nearly every Democrat on stage could not give a simple yes or no answer to the licenses question.

After Mr. Edwards said illegals should not get licenses, the Clinton campaign sent a fact-check noting that he was in favor of the plan in January 2004. Republicans also responded, suggesting that the topic will continue to be red hot in a general election.

When immigration came up again later, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Hispanic candidate, said: “We should stop demonizing immigrants.”

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio was the only candidate who would not agree to support the eventual Democratic nominee should he or she not win the nomination in 2008. He said he only would support that Democrat “if they oppose war as an instrument of policy.”

Mrs. Clinton holds a 28-point lead over Mr. Obama in a new CNN poll of likely Nevada Democratic caucusgoers.

It was the eighth official Democratic debate, held at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, located in sprawling Clark County, where more than 70 percent of the state’s population resides.

Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com


1.  List the seven Democratic presidential candidates.

2.  On what issue did Sen. Clinton criticize Sen. Obama during last night’s debate?

3.  In what way did Sen. Edwards criticize Sen. Clinton?

4.  What was ironic about Sen. Obama’s criticism of Sen. Clinton’s position on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants?

5.  a) What point did Sen. Dodd make about the tone of the debate?
b)  Do you agree with Sen. Dodd?  Explain your answer.

6.  Do you think that most of the media attention should be focused on the top three candidates?  Explain your answer.


Watch portions of last night’s 2 hour debate at news.yahoo.com/fc/US/2008_Presidential_Election and cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/debates/

For each candidate’s official website, do an internet search of the candidate’s name with the words “official website” after it, or type the candidate’s name and the words “for president.”  e.g. “Chris Dodd for president”  or “Bill Richardson official website”

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