THE WASHINGTON TIMES After hearing from the leading Democratic candidates this week, liberal voters say they want a president who will give every American health care, limit outsourcing and make it easier for poor children and minorities to get a good education.
People attending the Take Back America conference named these domestic priorities — and said they would back higher taxes if needed to achieve them — as their top goal besides swiftly ending the Iraq war.
"We have to get a president who will reconsider trade policy or there will be no more middle class left," said Dan Flippo, a member of the steelworkers union in Birmingham, Ala.
Joyce Elliott, a retired teacher from Little Rock, Ark., wants someone in the White House who will prioritize universal health care and helping poor children get through college without mountains of debt.
"Most importantly, I really would like to see a president govern as if he or she was not running for a second term," she said. "Otherwise, they won't make the bold moves they need to."
Still, the immediate response of most voters surveyed by The Washington Times was to get out of Iraq, as evidenced by the results of a 727-person straw poll showing Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, who gave a tough antiwar speech at the conference, as the favorite.
Former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, who voted for the war in 2002 but has since apologized for the vote as a mistake, came in second place, besting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who was booed and heckled yesterday over the war.
When Mrs. Clinton talked about Iraq being a catastrophe, Code Pink protesters in the auditorium shouted: "You voted for it!"
The boos came when she praised the troops for doing what they'd been asked to do and said, "It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions for their own people."
Mrs. Clinton kept her composure, telling the crowd: "I love coming here every year," getting some laughs from attendees who remembered she was also booed last year talking about Iraq.
"I see the signs: 'Lead us out of Iraq now,' that is what we are trying to do," she said, and continued her speech, noting she is a co-sponsor of a pending bill that would deauthorize the war.
Mrs. Clinton was followed by staunch antiwar candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, who received huge ovations when telling the crowd, "We need to tell the president now the occupation will come to an end, the troops will be brought home, the bases will be closed, the contractors must be brought back."
The former first lady holds double-digit leads over her rivals in national polls, but many liberals are angry she has not said she is sorry for her 2002 war vote.
Mr. Obama had 29 percent, Mr. Edwards had 26 percent, and Mrs. Clinton had 17 percent in the straw poll, sponsored by Politico.com. The other candidates scored less than 10 percent, and former Vice President Al Gore received 8 percent as a write-in candidate.
The straw poll showed Iraq was the most important issue to attendees, followed by health care.
This week, several of the candidates spoke at Take Back America and also at a presidential forum hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME).
Voters at both events said they think the Democrats have a strong field to choose from, and opined on their ideal candidate's first days in office.
"They would need to bring manufacturing back to the Rust Belt — reopen and retool the plants," said Kathie Sherrill of Detroit. "After we get out of Iraq, the next president needs to focus on the people who are falling between the cracks. We are losing sight of our own."
The candidates all gave speeches with a mix of foreign and domestic policy — with most saying the U.S. must end the war, work to make friends abroad to restore international standing, and all saying every American deserves health care.
The candidates talked about fair wages, ending the country's dependence on foreign oil and improving veterans care.
The domestic portion of Mrs. Clinton's speech included the theme of helping people be seen by government.
"Too many people ... feel like they're invisible to their government," she said. "They're working as hard as they can. All they're asking for is to be given a fair chance. ... I want every American to know that their needs and their lives are not invisible to this group and they're not invisible to me, and they won't be invisible to the next president of the United States."
Each offered some policy positions.
Mrs. Clinton promised universal kindergarten for every 4-year-old; Mr. Edwards said he would create "green collar" jobs to build up the economy and help the environment.
Mr. Obama said he would raise the fuel efficiency of cars, and noted he wasn't afraid to tout that plan recently to auto executives in Detroit. He also talked about restoring the middle class.
"It's time to turn the page for all those Americans who want nothing more than to have a job that can pay the bills and raise a family," he said.
Voters didn't mind the nuanced differences in the candidates' health care plans, and lauded Mrs. Clinton's efforts on health care when her husband was in the White House. This time around, she has promised universal health care but hasn't yet released a detailed plan.
Mr. Obama said his plan would cut the cost of an average family's annual premium by up to $2,500 and would help people without insurance buy a coverage similar to what members of Congress enjoy.
Mr. Edwards would roll back the Bush tax cuts to pay for his plan that would mandate coverage for every man, woman and child.
The forum attendees also called for union rights and punishing companies that outsource jobs.
Ending the Iraq war would allow the U.S. to refocus and deal with terrorism in a "smart way," speculated Pat Estess, a writer from Brooklyn at Take Back America. "Then we'll have the money to go back to improving things domestically."
"Health care first, then help kids get a good education," summarized Debra King, an AFSCME member from Ohio.