Presidential Candidates Attend DNC Meeting

The Democratic National Committee meeting met yesterday in Virginia. Howard Dean and presidential candidates Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich, and Joseph Biden all attended.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

Coming up, the economic outlook gets gloomier.

But first, Democratic Party leaders met in suburban Washington yesterday to plot strategy for the 2008 elections. Five presidential candidates spoke to the fall meeting of the Democratic National Committee, though Senator Hillary Clinton cancelled her appearance at the last minute when word broke of a hostage situation at one of her New Hampshire campaign offices.

At the DNC meeting, the speeches and work went on in Clinton's absence.

NPR's Don Gonyea was there.

DON GONYEA: Whenever Democrats gather these days, you can feel the anticipation, the sense that it's time to capture the White House. But party chairman Howard Dean opened yesterday's meeting of the DNC with words of caution.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Party): The worst thing we can do right now is be complacent, overconfident, and take things for granted. The Republicans may not know how to run America, but they do know how to win elections, and we had better be willing to work hard and pull together in order to win this one.

GONYEA: In all five Democratic presidential hopefuls who spoke to the meeting, Senator Clinton's cancelation came mid-afternoon; Senator Dodd had cancelled earlier in the week, opting instead to campaign in Iowa. The first to speak yesterday was New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): You're going to hear a lot of arguments for how we can win the presidency. But for me, it's much bigger than that. We, as Democrats, have to start by winning back the confidence of the American people, and that begins with proving that we're listening to them.

GONYEA: Now, a Democratic meeting is not the best place for rival candidates to really tear into one another. The party's eventual nominee is going to want everyone in this room enthusiastic for the fall campaign next year.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who has leveled strong attacks against Hillary Clinton out on the trail, yesterday, focused more on his ability to win votes in southern states that favor Republicans.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): We need to go to every state in America to make our case, and I mean every state. If we have a candidate who is straight with people, who has strong convictions, and who won't back down from a fight, we can compete everywhere.

GONYEA: Direct jabs at opponents at such big party gatherings are often delivered with a velvet glove as Senator Obama did with what was clearly a reference to an unnamed Senator Clinton.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Triangulating poll-driven positions because we're worried about what Mitt or what Rudy might say about us just won't do. If we are serious, really serious about winning this election, Democrats, we can't live in fear of losing it.

GONYEA: During the afternoon session, Congressman Dennis Kucinich went after President Bush, saying it's time to get out of Iraq and calling for impeachment.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): There are those who say, well, you know what, they'll move for impeachment of the president if he bombs Iraq; that would be a little bit light…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. KUCINICH: …with all due respect.

GONYEA: Moments later, Delaware Senator Joe Biden portrayed himself as ready for battle against anyone the Republican's nominee.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): If they think they're getting in the ring with someone who doesn't know to punch back, they've got the wrong guy. Ladies and gentlemen, we will eat these guys alive on national security, on domestic security, and all of those issues we've always beaten them on - from health care to education, to the environment.

GONYEA: It's the kind of attack on Republicans that Democrats loved to hear, but away from official party gatherings like this one, look for the bruising dialogue between the Democratic campaigns to continue as the first voting in Iowa and New Hampshire gets closer.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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