December 4, 2007
Anna Christopher, NPR



First Audio-Only Debate of the Campaign Season; Live from Des Moines


December 4, 2007; Washington, D.C. – Seven of the leading Democratic presidential candidates participated in a live, two-hour audio-only broadcast and webcast debate from Des Moines focusing on three topics - U.S. and Iran relations, illegal immigration and trade with China - presented by NPR News and Iowa Public Radio.

The debate, which had no cameras nor studio audience present, was moderated by NPR journalists Steve Inskeep, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel. It was produced at the Iowa State Historical Museum. Unlike broadcast network formats, it encouraged dialogue among the candidates, who were not given time restrictions for answering questions. The debate also concentrated solely on three subjects; responses to them generated extensive print, broadcast and digital media coverage.

Among the candidate responses:

On the Bush administration’s assertion that Iran poses a threat:

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: It is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continue to not let facts get in the way of his ideology. And that's been the problem with their foreign policy generally. They should have stopped the sabre-rattling, should have never started it and they need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.

On the senate resolution to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization:

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: Well, first of all, diplomacy. Declaring a military group sponsored by the state of Iran a terrorist organization, that's supposed to be diplomacy? And I would add, this has to be considered in the context that - Senator Clinton has spoken about me, let me just respond - this has to be considered in the context that Senator Clinton has said she agrees with George Bush terminology that we're in a global war on terror, then she voted to declare the military group in Iran a terrorist organization. How, what possible conclusion can you reach other than that we are at war? And I have very, a very different view about what you need to do to stand up to Bush.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, you know, I understand politics and I understand making outlandish political charges, but this really goes way too far. In fact, having designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, we've actually seen some changes in their behavior. There is absolutely no basis for a rush to war, which I oppose and have opposed for two years. But there is also a recognition that the Iranians were supplying weapons that killed Americans. They were supplying technical assistance from the Qods Force, which is their special operations element. So I think we've actually seen the positive effects of having labeled them a terrorist organization, because it did change their behavior.

On reporting illegal immigrants to U.S. authorities:

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: We do not deputize the American people to do the job that the Federal government is supposed to do. So as president of the United States, I will make sure that the federal government does what it's supposed to do, which is to do a better job of closing our borders and preventing hundreds of thousands of people to pour in, have much tougher enforcement standards when it comes to employers and create a pathway of citizenship for the 12 million people who are already here.

Following the broadcast, NPR asked the candidates a question that appears exclusively at

Transcript, photos and audio of the NPR/IPR debate are available at: All audio must be credited to "NPR News." Television usage must include on-screen NPR News credit with NPR logo.

NPR programs reach more than 26 million listeners weekly, and NPR Member stations have a weekly audience of more than 30 million people. Iowa Public Radio reaches more than 240,000 weekly listeners across the state.