- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

The nine Democratic presidential hopefuls rehashed much of their opposition to President Bush’s Iraq policy last night in the fifth televised debate among those hoping to succeed Mr. Bush.

“We cannot continue to play Bush roulette — it used to be Russian roulette, now it’s Bush roulette — with the lives of American troops seeing every day, with no real exit strategy,” said civil rights activist Al Sharpton.

And although Mr. Bush took most of the heat, the candidates did continue to develop their attacks on each other, with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman being the most pointed in questioning his fellow senators who voted two weeks ago against the $87 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq.

“If everyone had voted the way [Massachusetts Sen.] John Kerry did, the money would not have been there to support our troops,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Kerry, though, said as a military veteran he is in a better position than Mr. Lieberman to know what his vote means to the troops.

“Joe, I have seared in me an experience which you don’t have, and that’s the experience of being one of those troops on the front lines when the policy has gone wrong,” he said. “Nothing we did in that vote puts them in jeopardy. What we did was vote to protect the security of the troops in the long run by making clear how we do this.”

The debate, in Detroit, was the second sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and Fox News Channel. It was attended by all nine candidates remaining in the race. The Democratic National Committee already has sponsored three debates and plans three more before the first primaries and caucuses in January.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is at or near the top of the polls in New Hampshire and Iowa, the first states to choose delegates next year, faced fewer attacks from his rivals than in previous debates.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Dean did spar, though, over whether Mr. Dean will be able to balance the budget and also protect key programs that Democrats consider sacred, as Mr. Dean has promised to do.

“Medicare is not on the table. I’m a strong supporter of the contract with seniors,” Mr. Dean said. “Social Security is not on the table; I’m a strong supporter of Social Security.”

But Mr. Kerry said that leaves very little room to maneuver.

“Last week in Iowa, Governor Dean said entitlements were on the table. Now if he just took Social Security and Medicare off the table, what entitlements are on the table?” Mr. Kerry said.

Meanwhile, both Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Dean continued criticism of Wesley Clark on his position on the war in Iraq, with Mr. Lieberman saying that “he took six different positions” on the war.

Mr. Clark, a retired general who announced last night that he opposed the $87 billion Iraq funding bill, said, “I’ve been against this war from the beginning. I was against it last summer, I was against it in the fall, I was against it in the winter, I was against it in the spring. And I’m against it now. It was an unnecessary war. There was no imminent threat.”

Also participating in the debate were Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio.

At some points in the debate the candidates defended their liberal credentials, with Mr. Kerry saying the Democratic Party needs to embrace gun-control measures in order to win the presidency next year.

“I don’t think we can get elected nationally if we’re not prepared to stand up against powerful national interests,” Mr. Kerry said. “I’m for the assault-weapons ban, I’m for the Brady Bill, I’m for making sure we stand up for gun safety in this country.”

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