Final Democratic candidate debate before Iowa Caucuses

The Democratic presidential candidates running campaigns in Iowa are to gather on a stage at Iowa Public Television headquarters in Johnston, Iowa, a few moments from now to participate in The Des Moines Register’s "debate."  What follows is a live blog of the forum.

The Register’s Carolyn Washburn is on the screen, telling us there are six candidates on the stage.  "They have spent months in Iowa," she says.  "…Still half of Iowa Democrats who say they are likely to Caucus say they are also likely to change their minds."

Starts, as she did yesterday, with financial issues  "Would it be a priority…to balance the federal budget every year?"

Obama:  "over last 7 years we’ve seen an economy that is out of balance…We’re got growing inequality…so what I want to do is get the long-term fundamentals rights…that means investing (in infrastructure; education and ending war in Iraq)."

Richardson:  "As a governor, I’ve had to balance budgets…and it would be a major priority…a constitutional amendment to balance the budget…balancing the budget should be viewed as an opportunity to have economic growth, the way we did in the Clinton years."

Biden:  "It’s pretty straightforward…it’s about priorities.  Just by eliminating the war (tax cuts for rich & cuts in unneeded military equipment)…you would save $350 billion….Republicans…have ballooned the deficit."

Dodd:  "The federal govt is much different than a state govt..what we need to be doing is growing our economy, giving our people a sense of optimism…(bring an end to war in Iraq)…but the national govt is a very different entity than a state govt."

Edwards:  "We have to get rid of structural deficiencies in economy…strengthen middle class…Corp power and greed have literally taken over the govt and we need a president who is willing to take these interests on…."

Clinton:  "Fiscal responsibility is a very high priority for me…I will institute those very same approaches (that were used in 1990s — she doesn’t name her husband like Richardson did)…The results will take a while to actually see."

What would you ask Americans to pay more for?

Richardson:  "Two percent for wealthy Americans is unfair….Obviously you can’t do it in a time of war or recession (balance the budget)…When we talk about our most urgent national priority which is the war…these are funds which could go to domestic priorities…Fiscally responsible budgets are critical for economic growth."

Edwards:  "I just want to add….the truth of the matter is the tax policy has been established by wealthy Americans and corporations….while most working middle class families are struggling…(get rid of tax breaks for wealthy & corps taking jobs overseas)…"

Clinton: "I think it’s important that we recognize how people feel…I want to restore the tax rates that we had in the 1990s…and I want to start making changes that will actually save us money….We can get back to fiscal responsbility." 

How do you pay for your priorities in the short term?

Biden:  "We shouldn’t buy into this Repub paradigm…you can take $20 billion out of the defense dept just by not building new weapons systems….tax cuts going to people who don’t need them will not affect the economy and they didn’t ask for ’em….I would fundamentally change the Repub priorities."

Obama:  "Every proposal I’ve put forward in this campaign we have paid for…Let’s just look at our tax code…Right now we’ve got a whole host of corp loopholes…(Cayman Islands)…If we close some of those loopholes, that helps me pay for (proposals)…restore fairness to tax code and put money in pockets of hard-working Americans…It requires some leadership from the WH."

Richardson:  "I detailed $57 billion in military reductions…but we’ve got to recognize the Iraq war has drained our military…Need a couple of more divisions in the Army, the Marines…and we need to recruit and retain to keep the volunteer army going."

Dodd:  "I try to frame this in the context of what’s fair and responsible and what’s pro-growth…37 million Americans living in poverty…The earned income tax credit ought to be expanded further in order to lift people…too often I think Democrats are associated with tax hikes and not growing the economy."

How to handle China?

Richardson:  "We should have a relationship based on recognition that China’s a strategic competitor…I’d be tougher on China when it comes to trade….We ought to ban all these toys they’re bringing in…contaminated food….We have to have an important strategic relationship with them…They cannot continue playing around with currencies…."

Dodd:  "Competitors normally are operating on the same rules…This is more of an adversarial relationship…You’re still using slave labor…You manipulate your currency….It’s obviously important not to get bellicose…We need to get a lot tougher on this, fair, not loud."

Too much of budget going to entitlements?

Clinton:  "It is a problem, it’s a particular problem with Medicare…..It’s a longer term problem with SS…part of it is gettnig back to fiscal responsibility…We do need to give Medicare the right to negotiate for lower drug prices…We’ve got to have a health care reform like the one that I have proposed…that will bring costs down.  That will help Medicare….(talks about convening bipartisan commission to tackle Social Security)."

Biden:  "the solution is within our capacity…by lifting the cap on Social Security…problem…solved…(on medicare) It’s not new benefits, it’s costs….The question is, you’ve got to act and this is all about action."

Obama:  "Just to emphasize how important prevention and cost savings can be….If we went back to obesity rates of 1980 (save billions in Medicare)…We are not going to make some of these changes unless we change how business is done in Washington….Unless we change that politics, we’re goign to continue to see (waste)."

Richardson:  "Prevention is going to be the key…33 percent of Mediare costs are related to diabetes…We need to hagve manditory phys ed…(do more health research)…"

Free open statement time:  Obama’s first, emphasizes change message.  Edwards goes second, emphasizes economy.  He is looking directly in the camera.

Trade question.

Biden:  "How are we possibly helping a third world country…knowing that they’re going to exploit their own workers…it should be a condition to every trade agreement that we engage in."

Richardson:  "Human rights is a fundamental tenant of foreign policy and trade policy….these are our values…"

Dodd:  "The Harkin Amendment….in Carter Administration….It ought to be part of the seamless conduct of our foreign policy."

Edwards:  "Human rights should be central to the way America engages with the rest of the world…Look at what America got (with China)…We got millions of dangerous Chinese toys, we lost millions of jobs…It is so important that we stop allowing these corporate powers…to run (trade policy)."

Scrap NAFTA?

Clinton:  It should be amended, promises a review of each trade agreement.  "We need to make it clear to the rest of the world that we are an open society…but we don’t want to be the trade patsies of the world."

Obama:  "There’s no doubt that NAFTa needs to be amended….I think that folks made a terrific point that we have to stand for human rights…It is harder for us to do it when we have situations like GITMO…to the extent that we are not being true to our ideals….gives us less leverage."

Dodd jumps in….mentions sanctions on Darfur.

Free statements, Biden says election is "really about action and pragmatic solutions."  Richardson uses his bit to "thank the people of owa to put us through this very good process."

Energy crisis?

Biden says it’s a moral issue and will require sacrifice.

Richardon talks about senate vote defeating energy bill…"This is tragic."  Also mentions sacrifice.

Dodd praises efforts in Iowa and mentions his "corporate carbon tax." 

Clinton says American people must be enlisted to participate in fix, "a new form of American patriotism."

Obama says it’s a "moral imperitive." 

Edwards says obstacles to change are "entrenched interests."

"Carolyn, do you want to ask us to raise our hands on global warming?" Clinton interjected, illustrating she was briefed about or watched yesterday’s debate among nine Republican presidential candidates.

I missed this question.  It must be about farm policy.

Obama talks about Grassley amendment to cap farm subsidies.  He voted for it.  Biden says he would have voted for it.  Clinton says she’s following Harkin’s lead on farm bill, mentions she also voted for Grassley’s amendment.

Last two candidate statements.  Clinton talks about Iowa, "especially the first time Caucus-goers.  Everyone wants change."  She delivers a knock on Edwards and Obama about their form of change. 

Dodd gets his shot, thanks Iowans and "positive ideas and results."  Add that "this isn’t about wealth or celebrity."

Education question.

Edwards:  universal pre-K for four year olds, national teaching university like the Naval Academy, bonus and incentive pay for teachers who go to most difficult places, radically change NCLB and second-chance schools.

Richardson:  start early, preschool for every child under four.  Within 15 years America becomes #1 again in science and math.  Hire 100,000 science & math teachers.  NCLB must be scrapped.

Follow — how should people evaluate New Mexico record?

Richardson:  teacher salaries improved from #48 to #28.

Obama:  a lot of good ideas have been mentioned….close achievement gap with pre-K…changing NCLB…pay teachers more…"get parents reengaged in instilling a sense of excellence in their children."

Dodd:  got to begin with parents…"I come from a family of teachers"…

Clinton:  "I’ve worked on behalf of education reform for a very long time….the president has a certain bully pulpit….(mentions that Chelsea Clinton is along today)…."how ’bout funding special education?’…fully funding everything feds require.

Edwards:  "i’ve already talked about this…"  He goes on to talk about college education.  "I also want us to think in a bigger way about what we do over the long term" about job retraining.

Biden:  "The reason my wife’s not here today is because she’s teaching…."

What would you accomplish in first year as president?

Obama:  "I will call in the joint chiefs of staff and tell them they have a new mission…bring our combat troops home (from Iraq)…Number two, I’ll call in my new AG to review every single execorder that’s been issued by George Bush…"

Biden:  "I will call the joint chiefs in & tell them to implement the Biden plan."  Biden would ensure every child before end of first year.

Richardson:  "I’d end the war.  All troops out within a year…I’d make a major effort…to pass universal health care….an energy revolution…We’re going to be the conscience of the world not the world’s policeman."

Biden accuses Richardson of being color blind because his answers are so long (there is a color-coded lighting system on stage to tell them when to quit).  Laughter. 

Dodd:  "change the discourse…that has to change…change the nature of our conversation."

Edwards: "There are an awful lot of promises being made…I think people deserve the truth….a POTUS who calls on the American people to join together to take this country and this democracy back."

Clinton:  "Well, I’m going to be busy because I know how important it is to get started and get started quickly."  End the war, sign bills Bush vetoed.

Questions about character & leadership.  Time as First Lady — process to develop health care plan secretive.

Clinton:  "I learned a lot from that experience & clearly one of the principle lessons is that you have to have a strong communications strategy….I want to have an open & transparent govt….put as much as we can on the Internet…let’s have as much sunlight as we can possibly gather."

Biden and race issues, including remarks about Obama being "clean & articulate."

Biden:  "I think that I have my whole career, I got involved in politics because of the civil rights movement…I get over 95 percent of the vote of minorities in my state…It may be possible because I speak so bluntly that people misunderstand…but no one (in Delaware) has ever misunderstood my committment to civil liberties."

Other candidates applaud.  Clinton saye "here here."

Obama:  "I’ve worked with Joe Biden…I have absolutely no doubt of what is in his heart….I will provide some testimony as they say in church."

Edwards is asked about how he’ll get change with groups that he’s been criticizing.

Edwards:  "We have an epic battle in front of us….All the things that we’ve talked about today…depends on winning this battle….If you want a fighter…"

Dodd writes in book that he struggles with memories of father being censured.  How much are you motivated to restore family name?

Dodd:  Talks about his father.  "A well-intentioed public servant can make a difference."  The crowd applauds, as does Clinton.

Richardson asked about lax security at national labs when he was Energy Secretary.

Richardson:  "In 25 years of public service there are probably other mistakes that I’ve made….The point is that we do have in all of our lives…I’ve made a lot of gaffes and I’m glad you didn’t raise ’em but I’ll stand behind my record."

Next question to Obama, about all his foreign policy advisors who were high-ranking officials in the Bill Clinton administration, and how he would strike out in a new way on foreign policy with all the old hands on board.

"I want to hear that," Clinton quipped.

"Hillary, I’m looking forward to you advising me as well," Obama said.  "I want to gather up talent from everywhere."

Next question, about signing statements.  I don’t care about this issue and won’t be typing.

Tell us your New Year’s Resolution for 2008 is the last question.

Clinton:  "I have a lot of things that I think about resolving….exercise….I’m also resolved to do the very best job that I can in this campaign…to run a campaign that Democrats can be proud of and that Republicans and Independent can support."

Edwards:  "To remember…that somewhere in America tonight a child will go to sleep hungry…that somewhere in America today a father who’s worked for 30 or 40 years…will lose his job and that’s what’s at stake in this election."

Dodd:  "I want to see our country regain its optimissm…moral authority around the globe…that Iowans caucus and they Caucus correctly on January 3rd."

Richardson:  "My New Year’s Resolution is one that I have every year and it’s to lose weight…I wish that the congress and the president end their dysfunctional relationship….It just seems that…nothing ever happens….That I can continue to stay positive."

Biden:  "to try to remember what it was like when things were really bad so that I can treat my colleagues, treat my family when things are really good."

Obama:  "I want to be a better father, a better husband and remind myself constantly that this is not about me…..I have to constantly remind myself, not to be timid, not to be distorted by the fears of losing."

One last question:  a lot of debate about Iowa’s role in process.

Clinton:  "I want to thank the people of Iowa…I’ve eaten my way across the state….I will never forget the people of Iowa."

Edwards:  "The Iwoa caucuses are crucial…because of instead of seeing us for a few seconds on television, they see us up close."  …having somebody who is driven in their gut by the fight."

Dodd:  "Aside from enjoying everything on a stike at the Iowa Fair….I lvoe the independence and the notion that Iowans…make up their own minds."

Richardson:  "What I like best about Iowans is you like underdogs….You don’t like the national media and the smartypants telling you who is going to be the next president."

Biden:  "Iowa deserves to be first and the reason they do is because they take it so seriously….and you always treat us with respect…you deserve to be first and without you this democracy’d be in trouble."

Obama:  "Iowa Caucuses give people a chance to lift the hood and kick the tires…they’re instincts are good…when they’re presented with good choices, they make the right decision…and I’m looking forward to doing well in the caucuses."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.