The candidates were first asked how they would be different from the White House and the Democratic leaders in Congress. Obama said, “One of the things I bring is a perspective … that says Washington has to change.” Clinton answered, “The issue is which of us is to lead on Day One.” John Edwards had a good moment when he talked about the Iraqi Parliament taking a vacation in August because it is too hot to work. “While the Iraqi parliament is on vacation, is George Bush going to be on vacation in Crawford, Texas?” Edwards asked. “What we need to do is turn up the heat on George Bush and hold him responsible, and make this president change course.”

Sen. Hillary Clinton was asked if she was a liberal, and she answered by dodging the question. Clinton said, “I consider myself a modern progressive. Someone who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms, who believes that we are better as a society when we’re working together.” Perhaps Hillary needs to read this column that I wrote over a year and a half ago on the true definition of progressivism.  Clinton did do well when she talked about the Pentagon’s response to her question about if they had a plan to withdraw the troops from Iraq. “I asked the Pentagon a simple question. ‘Have you prepared for withdrawing our troops?’ In response, I got a letter accusing me of being unpatriotic, that I shouldn’t be asking questions. Well, one of the problems is that there are a lot of questions that we are asking but we’re not getting answers from the Bush administration.”

Sen. Joe Biden had a really strong night. He shined when talked about taking tax breaks away from those who don’t need them. “My dad used to have an expression, don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget. We need more revenue to be able to pay for the things the governor (Richardson) and everybody else talks about. And there’s only one way to do it. You either raise taxes or take tax cuts away from people who don’t need them. I’d take them away from people who don’t need them.” One of the best questions of the night came from Cecilia Smith who asked, “If you’re elected to serve, would you be willing to do your service for the next four years and be paid the national minimum wage?”

Mike Gravel said yes, and the other candidates followed suit, except Sen. Chris Dodd, which prompted Obama to say that all the people on the stage have done really well and they can afford to work for minimum wage. “I mean, we don’t have, we don’t have Mitt Romney money,” Obama said, which led Joe Biden to say, “I don’t have Barack Obama money either.” Sen. Biden, who isn’t wealthy, said that he would be president for minimum wage, if he was allowed to get a second job.  

When the topic of Darfur came up, Bill Richardson advocated using diplomacy. “United Nations peacekeeping troops,” Richardson said. “That would primarily be Muslim troops. We need a permanent U.N. peacekeeping force stationed somewhere. If we get U.N. peacekeeping troops authorized for Darfur… It will take six months for them to get there. Genocide is continuing there. Two-hundred thousand have died. Close to 2 million refugees in that region. America needs to respond with diplomacy, with diplomatic leadership,” Richardson said.

Sen. Biden got emotional when he was asked a question about Darfur. “Absolutely, positivlely. I’m so tired of it. Let’s get right to it,” Biden said. “Why Darfur? Because we can. We should now. Those kids will be dead by the time diplomacy is over. I’m not joking. I’ve been to that camp.” On the other hand, Sen. Clinton had to be asked 3 times before she answered that she would not support the use of ground troops in Darfur. Rep. Dennis Kucinich shined when asked a question about gay marriage. “If our Constitution really means what it says, that all are created equal. Our brothers and sisters who happen to be gay, lesbian or bisexual or transgendered should have the same rights accorded to them and that includes the ability to have a civil marriage ceremony,” he said. Kucinich was also the only candidate to support reparations for slavery.

Sen. Chris Dodd pointed out that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was, “one of the dark and shameful moments in recent past history in our country. I think if it occurred in a majority white population, we would have seen a more rapid response.”

Once again, Mike Gravel said that the Democratic Party long ago sold itself out to special interests. “The Democratic Party used to stand for the ordinary working man. But the Clintons and the DLC sold out the Democratic Party to Wall Street,” Gravel said. “Look at where all the money is being raised right now, for Hillary, Obama and Edwards. It’s the hedge funds, its Wall Street bankers; it’s the people who brought you what you have today. Please wake up.” It was also interesting that 6 of the 8 candidates took private or charter flights to the debate in South Carolina. Only Gravel and Kucinich did not take a private flight. “I took the train,” Gravel said. “Maybe one of these guys will give me a ride someday.”

Overall, this wasn’t a bad debate. It was a little too gimmicky, and CNN did pick questions that were more for entertainment value than informative. Each of the candidates’ performances was much better for the most part. It is really difficult to pick winners and losers tonight, because most of the candidates did well, but I’ll try. My winners include Obama, Edwards, Biden, and Richardson. Losers include Clinton, Dodd, Gravel, and Kucinich.

This is a part of my column for To read the full column, click here.

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at

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