At Soldier Field in Chicago the candidates for the 2008 Democratic nomination gathered for an AFL-CIO forum that was part pro-union pep rally and part debate. For the most part, this gathering was more of the same. Hillary Clinton tried to stay above the fray and look presidential, Obama was the young voice for change, Edwards represented the angry blue collar populist, and the other candidates were trying to get noticed and separate themselves from the pack.

The event began with a question asking should America spend more on infrastructure, and of course, all the candidates said yes. The candidates spent a great deal of time talking about NAFTA, and surprisingly only Dennis Kucinich believed that the agreement should be scrapped. They also discussed No Child Left Behind, and all the candidates dodged a question about whether China is an adversary or an ally.

John Edwards and Barack Obama continued with their theme that Clinton is the candidate of special interests. In an obvious jab at Clinton Edwards said, “You will never see a picture of me on the front of Fortune magazine.” Obama indirectly attacked Clinton by pointing out the control of our political system by “corporate lobbyists” in Washington D.C. By the way, these are the same lobbyists that Clinton chose to defend last weekend. In response to the comments of Obama and Edwards Clinton said, “The other campaigns have been using my name a lot.  For 15 years, I’ve stood up against the right-wing machine. If you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I’m your girl.”

Obama was taken to task by Clinton, Dodd and Biden over his foreign policy comments relating to Pakistan. “General Musharraf is no Thomas Jefferson, but he is an ally in the war on terror,” Dodd said. Clinton drew some boos when she adopted a superior chastising tone towards Obama and said, “You should not always say everything you think if you’re running for president, because it has consequences across the world.” Joe Biden said, “All of these people talking about going into Pakistan are going to have to send your kids back to Iraq, Bush has not told the truth for seven years. It’s time we tell the truth.” After having much criticism heaped upon him Obama said, “I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me.”

Edwards who has spent the last three years courting the support of labor said, “It is fine to give a nice talk but the question is who has been with you in the crunch. It is great to give a talk but who was with you in crunch time?” Edwards asked. The former senator also pointed out that he had walked in 200 picket lines over the last three years. Those comments led Biden to remark, “It’s not where you’ve been in the last two years, it’s where you were in the six years in the Senate.”

The night really belonged to Dennis Kucinich. This was his kind of forum, with his kind of people. Kucinich was also helped greatly too by the absence of Mike Gravel, which not only gave him more air time, but allowed to be the most liberal candidate on the stage. While others pandered to the crowd, Kucinich was able to get the crowd whipped up with each answer because this is his natural constituency. This was easily Kucinich’s best performance of the year.

Kucinich, Edwards, Obama were the clear crowd favorites. Clinton managed to stay out of most of the messiness and continue to look presidential, while Biden has another strong performance, and Dodd and Richardson were somewhat left out of the loop. One thing that became really clear to me while watching this event is that it seems battle lines are being drawn between the establishment candidates, Clinton/Biden/Dodd, and those who are campaigning on change, Obama/Edwards. It was no accident that these two were playing defense for most of the night. All in all, this was an entertaining, but rather uninformative event.
 

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics 

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
 

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