Video questions submitted to YouTube shook up the usual campaign debate Monday night.
The questions, most of them coming from young people, were blunt and earnest, and sometimes bizarre.
The revelations that the questions elicited ranged from the ridiculous to the grave. John Edwards didn't like Sen. Hillary Clinton's bright coral jacket. More seriously, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would be willing to meet individually with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea during the first year of his presidency, while Clinton would not.
"I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes," she said.
Her campaign quickly posted video of her answer online, trying to show she has a different understanding of foreign policy than her chief rival.
"He needs help," Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said after watching a video of a man holding an automatic weapon and asking how the candidates would protect his "baby."
"I don't know if he's mentally qualified to own that gun," Biden said.
Two video submissions featured men singing about taxes and the No Child Left Behind education bill. The first question began with a voter named Zach asking, "Wassup?" Another featured two men from Tennessee playing hillbillies and asking if all the talk about Al Gore entering the race hurt their feelings. "I think the people of Tennessee just had their feelings hurt," Biden responded.
Democratic strategist Kiki McLean said the format got the candidates to speak "in real language, not citing legislative bill numbers."
The candidates were asked whether they would take the presidency at minimum wage. Most said yes. "Well, we can afford to work for the minimum wage because most folks on this stage have a lot of money," Obama said. When Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd tried to protest that he wasn't in the same league, Obama said, "You're doing all right, Chris."
Questions about health care came from brothers spoon-feeding dinner to a father suffering with Alzheimer's, a woman sitting with her mother suffering from diabetes, a man in a wheelchair and a 36-year-old woman who pulled off her wig and declared her hope to be a breast cancer survivor.
"We should be outraged by these stories," Edwards said, his voice rising as he pounded his podium.
Their struggles fit in perfectly with Edwards' message of the night - there are too many important issues to focus on the $400 haircuts that he got and are dogging his campaign. Candidates were asked to produce their own YouTube-style videos, and Edwards set his to the theme from the 1968 musical "Hair." It includes serious images including several from Iraq and ends with the text: "What really matters? You Choose."
Dodd's video also was about his hair. "The guy with the white hair for the White House," it said. Clinton's video-ad ended with the kicker, "Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman."
The candidates gathered at the military college The Citadel in South Carolina, site of one of the earliest primaries - Jan. 29. Many questions focused on the Iraq war.
Asked if Democrats are playing politics with the war, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio said yes. "The Democrats have failed the people," he said.
Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel said U.S. soldiers are dying in vain. No other candidate would go that far.
Obama took the opportunity to take a slap at his rivals who voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq. "The time to ask how we're going to get out of Iraq was before we got in," he said, without naming Clinton, Edwards and others.
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico said he's the only candidate pledging to remove troops within six months. "Our troops have become targets," he said. Biden of Delaware said Richardson's goal was unrealistic.
Sensing her position was under attack, Clinton bristled as she argued that U.S. troops must be removed from Iraq "safely and orderly and carefully."
From NPR Reports and The Associated Press