CNN and YouTube, and the Next U.S. President Thousands posted questions on YouTube.com for the Democratic presidential candidates who will gather in South Carolina for a debate. Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin wants Congress to censure President Bush for his management of the war in Iraq.
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CNN and YouTube, and the Next U.S. President

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CNN and YouTube, and the Next U.S. President

CNN and YouTube, and the Next U.S. President

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

When Democratic presidential candidates gather tonight in South Carolina, they will have to respond to questions such as these.

Unidentified Man: America was definitely not prepared for Hurricane Katrina. So what will you do as president to prepare us for the next major disaster?

Unidentified Woman #1: Gun control just seems to provide safety for those who would terrorize unarmed, sitting-duck citizens. Can you explain how you interpret the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution?

Unidentified Woman #2: How will you solve the drug traffic problem in your country and how will you help Mexico with this issue?

INSKEEP: There's a sampling of thousands of questions posted on YouTube. The video-sharing Web site is teaming up with CNN for tonight's candidate forum. It's another sign of the prominence of new media in the old, old business of elections.

Joining us now, as she does every Monday, is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning once again.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And welcome back.

ROBERTS: Thank you. This should be an interesting evening.

INSKEEP: Indeed. Indeed. Will the questions be that different, though, from other debates?

ROBERTS: Well, Iraq has certainly so dominated the political debate in the country and in the debates that it's likely to play a major role tonight. But this is a very interesting experiment. The candidates and their campaigns are trying to find ways to connect with voters, especially young voters, through the new media. And we do have polls showing that young people learn a lot of their political news through the Internet, not through traditional media. We're certainly seeing candidates fundraising online, particularly Barack Obama. And now this idea of skipping the middleman - meaning you and me in the media - and going directly to the voters to ask the questions is another step.

Now, CNN will pick the questions, and there's been some criticism for the network for that because the submitters of the question say they should be voted on online. And I'll be curious to see if this debate is watched online. This is already the fourth debate this early in the year before the election, and most of the voters say they have not seen any of these debates.

INSKEEP: Does Hillary Clinton still count as the Democratic frontrunner as the Democrats gather tonight?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. ABC-Washington Post has a poll out this morning showing her holding steady at 15 percent higher than her next opponent, Barack Obama. She is at 45 percent, he is at 30 percent, John Edwards at 12 percent, all the rest in single digits. I mean, Hillary Clinton also has the advantage that most people think she has the best chance to win the presidency. And often that's an indicator of who does actually win.

There's only one real warning sign for her here, which is that people say she has the experience to be president but they say that Barack Obama is more likely to take the country in a new direction. And more voters say they're interested in seeing the country go in a new direction than they are in seeing an experienced candidate.

So I think that she has to keep on keeping on because she's clearly doing a lot right by whatever she's doing now, staying ahead in the polls the way she is. But she also has to find some fresh things to say so that the voters can feel that there's something new going on.

INSKEEP: Cokie, how much does it matter that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, some of the other Democrats have just raised millions and millions more than their Republican counterparts?

ROBERTS: It's really remarkable, Steve. In fact, the Wall Street Journal has a story today that the Democrats have raised - all the Democrats, congressional and presidential - $100 million more than the Republicans. That's the first time, if it holds up, that the Democrats would win the money race since the government started keeping track of campaign donations 30 years ago.

Democrats have 58 percent of the money for federal office. And lots of it is small donors, people who can give again. But they've also been getting money from people they don't normally get money from. Wall Street moguls are giving money to Democrats this time around. That's usually a solidly Republican donation base.

INSKEEP: Any danger for Democrats here?

ROBERTS: Well, the Democrats could do some things that could blow it. The Congress could seem to be ineffectual or they could seem to be overreaching. Yesterday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin proposed a censure resolution for the president and vice president, condemning their actions in Iraq and other things. The Majority Leader Harry Reid was quick to say that he didn't think that was such a good idea. Things like that. If the Democrats seem to be just, you know, piling on a president who is already at remarkably low approval ratings on a war that the public has turned their backs on - if the Democrats pile on on that, that could be a problem.

INSKEEP: NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Thanks very much.

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