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Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Vie for Attention
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Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Vie for Attention

Politics

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Vie for Attention
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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Two days, 10 contestants. No, it wasn't a game show or a beauty pageant. It was the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting. Committee members and more than a thousand rank and file Democrats welcomed a parade of presidential hopefuls, the 10 who have declared or have talked about running for the nomination in 2008.

NPR's Andrea Hsu spent the last two days at the DNC meeting and sent this report.

ANDREA HSU: DNC chairman Howard Dean laid out what he called the rules of engagement. Each candidate would have just seven minutes. Also...

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Each candidate was given the opportunity to play 30 seconds of music and can have up to 100 campaign signs evenly placed around the room. I did not make these rules up. I just work here.

(Soundbite of music)

HSU: Everyone exceeded the time limit. The worst offenders were Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska. Those two spoke for a combined 45 and a half minutes. And while they weren't buzzed out of the race, it was pretty clear they're both several paces behind some of the others.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton, for example, who delivered an impressive number of promises in very few breaths.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): We can elect the first woman president. We can fix healthcare. We can stop global warming. We can stop the genocide in Darfur.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HSU: And yes, she added, we can find the right end to the war in Iraq. Then of course, there was the other frontrunner - that senator from Illinois.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): What's going on, Democrats? Oh, you look fired up.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HSU: Barack Obama was greeted with rapturous applause. But he told the crowd that he's feeling the competition heating up.

Sen. OBAMA: You know, sometimes you feel like you're part of a reality TV show. I feel like this is "American Idol" or "Survivor." You're trying to figure out are you going to go to Hollywood or you're going to be voted off the island.

HSU: He called on his fellow candidates to run a positive campaign, something that was echoed today by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): You're in your second day of hearing political speeches. And you've heard from some of our best. You know our country would be a lot better off with any of them serving in the White House. As my vice president.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HSU: And Delaware Senator Joe Biden had a laugh line of his own.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): Good morning. So - how was your week?

HSU: Biden, of course, was still reeling after his verbal gaffe about Barack Obama. And while he and Richardson may have had the jokes, former Senator John Edwards pulled heartstrings with his call to arms to fight poverty.

Senator JOHN EDWARDS (Democrat, North Carolina): Will you stand up with that young boy half a world away holding his two-year-old sister on his chest? Will you stand up?

HSU: The answer appeared to be yes, as the party faithful rose to their feet.

Mr. EDWARDS: Will you stand up for America? Will you?

(Soundbite of cheering)

HSU: Now, if you're a Democrat and wondering how am I ever going to choose, well, take heart. Arizona committee member Carolyn Warner feels the same way.

Ms. CAROLYN WARNER (Arizona Committee Member): If we could put them together and have sort of a smorgasbord, that would be wonderful. But we will choose and we will choose the best. And if the good Lord is willing and the creeks don't rise, we will win this election and have a Democrat in the White House.

HSU: Andrea Hsu, NPR News, Washington.

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