Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Stump in Iowa
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The presidential candidates don't know how much support they will get when Iowa becomes the first state to vote. But six of the Democrats at least know they're getting their protein. They attended a state fry sponsored by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.
It's the kind of event they wouldn't miss since somewhere between 10 and 12,000 people were there, including NPR's Linda Wertheimer.
LINDA WERTHEIMER: The candidates appeared in a green field in Iowa yesterday on an almost magical afternoon, clear and sunny with the smallest sense of fall in the air. There were long rows of tables and folding chairs set up in immense tents, and volunteers speedily dished out well-done steak and potato salads to activists who paid $35 for the tickets.
Unidentified Man #1: Steak or chicken?
Unidentified Man #2: Steak, please.
Unidentified Man #1: Steaks? The best steaks are for Hillary people.
Unidentified Woman: Well, then I don't qualify.
WERTHEIMER: Some folks came wearing shirts that declared their preferences. Others were willing to take those little round stickers that have mostly replaced campaign buttons from every partisan who offered them, wearing them all at once. Candidates strolled through the crowd shaking hands and posing for pictures. John Edwards joined Senator Harkin at the grill for a time. Barack Obama led a parade of several thousand people from the pasture, where he held an earlier rally down to the steak fry. When they settled down to hear from the Democrats who want to be president, the crowd was excited, even jubilant, and they stayed that way despite the very serious messages they heard. With the president's latest war speech fresh in everyone's minds, the candidates all promised they would end the war the president has indicated will go on for some time.
Barack Obama went first.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): We are going to bring an end to this war and I will fight now in the United States Senate to make sure that we don't pass any funding bill that does not have a deadline to start bringing our troops out and a deadline to start bringing our troops home.
(Soundbite of cheering)
WERTHEIMER: One of the strongest positions on the war is Bill Richardson's. The governor of New Mexico was calling for a withdrawal to happen quickly and completely.
Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): My position is clear. We bring the troops out within six to eight months. But we leave no troops behind. The war cannot end with leaving any troops behind.
WERTHEIMER: Although every candidate had supporters and all the supporters had signs to wave, Hillary Clinton got one of the strongest reactions.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Our young men and women in uniform have done what they were asked to do. They have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein. They have given the Iraqis free and fair elections. They have given the Iraqi government the chance to have a future. They deserve to come home because there is no military solution.
(Soundbite of cheering)
WERTHEIMER: Clinton got a huge cheer when she told this crowd that the era of cowboy diplomacy is over. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut rejected the president's assertion that the country is safer because of the war in Iraq.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): Today, as all - we all know we are less safe, we are less secure, we are more vulnerable, we are more isolated than ever before. We want our country back again. We want to have our safety back again. We once again want to be a leader in the world.
WERTHEIMER: John Edwards of North Carolina said that in the 2006 election, Democrats were given a mandate to end the war in Iraq. And in a slap at his rivals who are in the Senate, he said that more could be done to force the war to end.
Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): Every single funding bill that goes to President Bush should have a timetable for withdrawal. If he vetoes it, they should send another bill with a timetable for a withdrawal. If he vetoes that, they should send another bill with a timetable for withdrawal…
(Soundbite of cheering)
Mr. EDWARDS: …until this president is forced to start taking troops out of Iraq.
WERTHEIMER: By far the gravest message came from Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, who said the president's address to the nation last week made it clear that he has no plans to end the war quickly. The earth moved, Biden said, under our feet.
Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): George Bush made it abundantly clear that he will not end this war in Iraq. If there was ever any doubt, ever any doubt in any one's mind, there is none now. And one of us, one of us on this stage, is going to have to end the war he started.
WERTHEIMER: Not even that could dampen the mood of the crowd in Indianola. They like their chances in 2008, and we were repeatedly told that for the first time in years they like all their candidates.
Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Iowa.
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