- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination used last night’s debate to criticize President Bush’s foreign policy and said he has endangered Americans by attacking Iraq.

“This president is a miserable failure. He is a miserable failure,” said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the former House Democratic leader.

“I, some days, just can’t believe — it is incomprehensible to me, it is incomprehensible — that we would wind up without a plan and international cooperation to get this done.”

And former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said that by focusing on Iraq, Mr. Bush has made terrorism more likely.

“The truth is, there are more likely to be more people from al Qaeda bombing Iraqis and Americans today than there were before Saddam Hussein was kicked out,” he said.

The debate, expected to be a chance for candidates to try to pull the surging Mr. Dean back into the pack, instead showcased the Democrats’ similarities with each other and their disdain for much of the Bush administration’s policies.

The forum in Albuquerque, N.M., is the first of six national debates sponsored by the Democratic National Committee. Eight of the nine major announced candidates for the Democratic nomination were present: In addition to Mr. Dean and Mr. Gephardt, the other participants were Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina, Bob Graham of Florida, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.

One of the moderators said the Rev. Al Sharpton was unable to attend because of weather delays.

Even though four of the candidates present opposed using force in Iraq and four supported the congressional resolution authorizing it, the candidates found themselves uniformly criticizing Mr. Bush’s postwar policy.

“The swagger of a president who says ‘Bring ‘em on’ does not bring our troops peace or safety,” Mr. Kerry said. “I believe we need a president who understands how to get it right in the beginning.”

The debate was sponsored in part by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made up of the Democratic Hispanic members of Congress, and the New Mexico location highlighted the growing importance political parties are placing on Hispanic voters.

Asked about immigration policy, all of the candidates indicated support for amnesty for illegal aliens already living and working in the United States.

“Anyone who has been in this country for five or six years, who has paid their taxes, who has stayed out of trouble, ought to be able to translate into an American citizen immediately, not waiting,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Dean placed immigration in a broader question of minority rights and blamed Mr. Bush for trying to scare Americans about the issue.

“The problem here is that immigration is a hot topic, because people like the president use code words like quotas to try to frighten people into thinking they’re going to lose their jobs to somebody who’s a member of the minority community,” he said.

New Mexico and Arizona, both of which have high populations of Hispanic voters, hold their nomination contests early in the political season, on Feb. 3, 2004.

Last night’s debate was broadcast live on PBS, but will be translated and rebroadcast Saturday on Univision, the Spanish-language network.

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