- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

BOSTON (AP) — Howard Dean last night defended his assertion that Democrats must court Southerners with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks, despite demands from other Democratic presidential candidates that he apologize.

“Were you wrong, Howard? Were you wrong to say that?” Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina asked the former Vermont governor in a campaign debate aimed at young voters.

“No, I wasn’t, John Edwards,” Mr. Dean shot back.

The exchange was the sharpest of the night in a debate that generally veered from issues such as Iraq and the economy into areas of interest to younger voters, including past marijuana use.

Mr. Edwards, Mr. Dean and Sen. John Kerry said they had used marijuana in the past. Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Wesley Clark, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Rev. Al Sharpton said they had not. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois declined to answer.

Mr. Clark, a retired Army general, asked about homosexual rights, said he would give gays “the opportunity to serve in the U.S. armed forces.” Under a policy in effect since the Clinton administration, homosexuals can serve in the military if they do not disclose their sexual orientation.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt was the only candidate absent as the Democrats vying to challenge President Bush gathered for their sixth debate in two months. The Missouri lawmaker chose to campaign in Iowa, site of the lead-off caucuses Jan. 19.

The candidates dressed down for the event, sponsored by CNN and Rock the Vote. Mr. Lieberman wore a shirt and tie but no jacket; Mr. Edwards favored an open-neck, blue-and-white checked shirt; Mr. Clark and Mr. Kucinich opted for turtlenecks.

The Democratic hopefuls sat in a semicircle, the audience as close as it would be for a television entertainment program.

Sekou Diyday, 25, a supermarket buyer, told Mr. Dean he was “extremely offended” by comments the former governor had made over the weekend in an interview with the Des Moines Register newspaper in Iowa.

“Could you please explain to me how you plan on being sensitive to needs and issues regarding slavery and African Americans after making a comment of that nature?” he asked to applause from the audience.

Mr. Dean responded by quoting Martin Luther King as saying it was his dream that “the sons of slaveholders and the sons of slaves” could someday sit down together.

Mr. Sharpton observed that Mr. Dean had failed to answer the question, then said the former governor had misquoted King. “You can’t bring a Confederate flag to the table of brotherhood,” he said.

“I don’t think you’re a bigot, but I think that is insensitive, and I think you ought to apologize to people for that,” Mr. Sharpton said. “You are not a bigot, but you appear to be too arrogant to say, ‘I’m wrong’ and go on.”

Mr. Dean defended himself and his remarks, telling Mr. Sharpton, “We’re not going to win this country … if we don’t have a big tent. And I’m going to tell you, Reverend, you’re right: I’m not a bigot.”

“We need to bring folks together in this race, just like Martin Luther King tried to do. … And I make no apologies for reaching out to poor white people.”

Mr. Dean added that people were wrong to fly the Confederate flag, which he called a racist symbol. But he added, “I think there are a lot of poor people who fly that flag because the Republicans have been dividing us by race since 1968 with their Southern race strategy.”

Despite the sharp exchange, the debate provoked moments of levity, including one when a questioner asked the eight contenders which one of their rivals they would like to party with.

Mr. Kucinich said Mr. Sharpton. Mr. Lieberman, with apologies to his wife, said his choice was the young woman who asked the question. Mr. Sharpton said his choice was Mr. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, which prompted Mr. Kerry to select Mr. Sharpton, saying that would allow him to keep an eye on the New York minister.

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