Democratic Presidential Debate Targets Iraq War

Iraq dominated a debate of eight Democratic presidential hopefuls in New Hampshire, as candidates were questioned about their political leadership, with John Edwards forcefully challenging front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Clinton chose to play it safe, hoping the polls that put her ahead of her rivals would stay put. She spent much of the night Sunday suggesting that she and her colleagues on stage are all just getting along.

"The differences among us are minor," she said. "The differences between us and the Republicans are major."

She chuckled as her rivals were quizzed over what role her husband, former President Bill Clinton, would play in a Democratic administration. The consensus: He would be a roving global ambassador.

Obama, who in the first debate in late April appeared nervous and insufficiently prepared, had a smoother delivery this time and a more detailed grasp of policy issues.

For other candidates, the night was about playing up differences.

The most determined was former Sen. Edwards, who has been running third in most national polls. He focused on the recent Senate debate over Iraq war funding. Even though Clinton and Obama voted against funding the war, Edwards said they were only coming around to his position.

"They went quietly to the floor of the Senate, cast the right vote. But there is a difference between leadership and legislating," Edwards said.

"Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama did not say anything about how they were going to vote until they appeared on the floor of the Senate and voted," Edwards said. "They were among the last people to vote."

Obama fired back at Edwards: "I think, John, the fact is, is that I opposed this war from the start. So you are about four-and-a-half years late on leadership on this issue."

The vote on funding the war gave another candidate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the chance to set himself apart.

Biden has been an outspoken critic of White House policy in Iraq. But he voted to fund the war, saying he didn't want to rob the military of needed resources.

"As long as there is a single troop in Iraq that I know, if I take action by funding them, I increase the prospect they'll live or not be injured, I cannot and will not vote 'no' to fund them," Biden said.

Later the debate turned to another vote — the one in 2002 to authorize President Bush to go to war.

It is a thorny issue for Clinton. Liberal groups have put tremendous pressure on her to say she now regrets voting to authorize the war. Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked Clinton about reports that she took the vote without ever reading the government's full classified report on pre-war intelligence.

"Do you regret not reading the National Intelligence Estimate?" Blitzer asked.

"I feel like I was totally briefed; I knew all of the arguments that were being made by everyone from all directions," Clinton responded.

"If George Bush had allowed the inspectors to finish the job they started, we would have known that Saddam Hussein did not have [weapons of mass destruction], and we would not have gone and invaded Iraq," she added.

The evening produced few fireworks. From one issue to the next, the candidates found themselves with precious little air time, and they seemed unable to demonstrate disagreement.

They even sounded very much the same in talking about an immigration bill that is dividing the country and was being hotly debated in the Senate on Monday afternoon. Immigration is expected to be a major topic when the Republican candidates gather Tuesday night on the same New Hampshire stage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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