Watch the debate live here.
Wolf Blitzer will moderate this evening. The rules will be somewhat loose, with no lights or signals to time the candidates. The first hour will be a series of questions with roughly one minute responses. The second hour, following a brief intermission, will be "more conversational." Whatever that means, it sounds interesting.
The candidates take turns showing how precious little they have to say about the economy. Note that none of them have anything to say about the falling dollar. Only Barack Obama makes the connection between wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our fiscal health.
No time for typing these last few minutes. I was too busy staring, mouth agape, at the screen, watching Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama take the gloves off. I won't bother recounting all of the details here, for you'll certainly see it on the news a thousand times this week. Certainly not to be missed, though. The most heated moments of the campaign so far. I'll post the video when I get the chance.
Slam junk, John Edwards! After the 15-minute skirmish between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, John Edwards chimes in, saying, "Are there three people in this debate, or two? This squabbling, this back and forth, how many children is this going to get health care for?" In the first 30 minutes of this debate, with so much negative energy being thrown around between the two front runners, it's clear that Edwards is the big winner so far.
"It is very difficult having a straight up debate with you because you never take responsibility for anything you do." --Hillary Clinton, followed by a loud chorus of boos from the crowd in South Carolina.
"When you comb my 4,000 votes, choose one, and portray it in the worst possible light, that has to be answered." -- Barack Obama
John Edwards and Barack Obama tangle on Obama's voting record in the Illinois house and his 100 times voting "present" instead of an up or down vote.
At this point in the debate, we've seen twenty minutes of Barack Obama having to defend himself from accusations from both Clinton and Edwards. Interesting that both Clinton and Edwards know that Obama is the heavy favorite in South Carolina. Both of Obama's opponents benefit from putting him on the ropes in this debate.
Edwards and Clinton attack Obama on his universal health care plan, stating that his plan leaves 15 million American uninsured. Obama responds by saying that he wants everyone covered, but that he doesn't want to mandate that families purchase coverage that they cannnot afford, and then fine them if they cannot afford coverage.
John Edwards outlays his plan to withdraw all combat troops and combat missions from Iraq in the first year of his presidency, leaving no permanent bases behind. Barack Obama reaffirms his belief that he wants to withdraw trips as quickly as they can be withdrawn safely. He underscores the financial costs of staying in Iraq any longer than absolutely necessary. Clinton says that she will move as quickly as possible. She also outlines her concerns about George W. Bush's plan to push forward a long term agreement with Iraq. She is opposed to Bush's plan for permanent bases and troop levels.
At this point, the debate is taking a quick break. When the debate returns, we are promised a new set, where all candidates will be seated together for a conversation and where there will be no rules (as if there were ever any rules.)
Now that we are in the sit-down, "conversational," portion of the debate, the tone has mellowed out somewhat. The first topic of conversation is poverty. This is one of those moments in the race where I think to myself, "Hey, all three of these people really want to do good."
Right now the candidates are basically telling stories about how in touch they are with the poverty in this country.
Barack Obama, on whether Bill Clinton was really the first black president: "I would have to investigate his (Bill Clinton's) dancing abilities before I could determine if he is, in fact, a brother."
Hillary Clinton is reflecting on how the diversity of the democratic candidates reflects the legacy of Dr. King.
Barack Obama takes the opportunity to take a look at the "substinative issue" of racial injustice in the country. I think that it's outstanding that he doesn't just use this holiday as a chance to be sappy, but also a chance to point out that Dr. King's dream is has yet to be realized.
Barack Obama: "We as Democrats have not had a working majority in a very long time...one of the reasons that I am running for president is that I can inspire new people to join in the process...the one good thing that Bush and Cheney have done for us is that they have given their party a very bad name. That gives us a unique opportunity in this election."
Edwards: "Who will be strong enough and tough enough to compete against John McCain in every place in America"
Interesting to hear the candidates now take a strategic look at the Democratic party as a whole and how they can achieve a mandate in 2008.
Edwards goes on to say that he is the one candidate who can compete head to head against John McCain anywhere in America.
Obama asserts that he, too, has polls showing that he can take on John McCain. Barack Obama asserts that Democrats have made a mistake in not going more aggressively after the evangelical vote.
Clinton says that her polls show that she can beat John McCain. She asserts that McCain will make it a national security debate, and that she is the one candidate who can take on McCain on national security.
Barack Obama says that the way to win on national security is to move away from "fear-mongering" and toward a diplomacy based foreign policy.
Closing Question: If Dr. King were alive today, why should he endorse you?
Edwards: What we need is a president who is willing to end poverty in America.
Obama: I don't think he would endorse any of us. Dr. King would call on the American people to hold us accountable. Dr. King understood that change does not happen from the top down, but from the bottom up.
Clinton: She sort of dodged the question.