- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Democratic presidential hopefuls Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and Sen. John Kerry teamed up in yesterday’s debate to draw Howard Dean, the apparent front-runner for the party’s nomination, back to the pack of nine.

Mr. Dean faced tough charges from all sides, but particularly on Medicare and his comments as Vermont governor in the 1990s that Medicare was growing too quickly.

“Are you going to slow the rate of growth, governor, because that’s a cut?” asked Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Mr. Dean, at first, tried to deflect the question, saying, “Well, I’d like to slow the rate of growth of this debate, if I could.”

But when pressed by Mr. Kerry, Mr. Dean said, “Medicare is off the table. I’m not going to cut Medicare to balance the budget.”

The debate — the fifth in a series sponsored by the Democratic National Committee — was held in Des Moines, Iowa, and televised live on MSNBC. Iowa holds the first binding nomination contest, party caucuses in January.

Mr. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina were in the District for the Senate’s Medicare debate and participated through live television feeds shown on split screens next to the other candidates.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who also was in the District for the Medicare debate, did not participate. He and Wesley Clark have said they will not participate in the Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Kerry also took aim at Mr. Dean for being inconsistent on Iraq.

“If we’re going to beat George Bush, we have got to take a position of leadership on these issues and stick with them. We can’t be all over the lot,” Mr. Gephardt said.

The debate focused on a few of the major issues in American politics today, including Iraq policy, Medicare, President Bush’s record and the recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that the state’s constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to “marry.”

The candidates all approved of the decision as a civil rights milestone, with Carol Moseley Braun comparing bans on gay “marriage” to prohibitions on interracial marriage in the past century.

But most of the candidates then disagreed with allowing full “marriage,” preferring instead to allow civil unions that would convey most of the same rights.

“I think the term ‘marriage’ gets in the way of what’s really being talked about here,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Clark, a retired Army general, said, “I think that people who want same-sex relationships should have exactly the same rights as people who are in conventional marriages.”

For his part, Mr. Edwards tried to remain above the fray involving Mr. Dean, Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Kerry.

“The Democrats are all at each other’s throats. People are tired of listening to politicians yelling at each other,” he said. “We have to offer a positive, optimistic, uplifting vision for this country.”

Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio also appeared in the debate.

Mr. Lieberman initially had declined to participate in the debate, citing a scheduling conflict. After Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry were allowed to participate via television, Mr. Lieberman asked to do the same, but said he wasn’t allowed because of objections from two other campaigns.

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