ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Voters in Iowa have seen just about everything when it comes to campaign events - they've got the first national caucus. But today, they saw something new. Two presidential hopefuls, a Democrat and a Republican, made a joint campaign appearance, sharing the stage at a luncheon in Des Moines. The candidates couldn't be more different.
Democratic Senator Joe Biden is an East Coast liberal. Republican Senator Sam Brownback is a heartland Christian conservative. But they have found common ground when it comes to the battleground of Iraq.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: This was not some high-powered campaign rally. In fact, the small banquet room at a country club near downtown held barely 100 people. But those who came were there to hear what the candidates had to say - and maybe for one afternoon anyway - to get away from the partisan rhetoric. Now, each of these men is struggling as a candidate. Biden pulls just 5 percent in Iowa. Brownback gets just 2 percent on the Republican side. Biden joked about that in his opening remarks.
JOE BIDEN: Sam and I are really here, and we're delighted to give you a preview in the general election. That's the reason we're here.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BIDEN: I think - the Republican side, it looks like Brownback to me, I don't know.
GONYEA: But more seriously, Biden added, that the two men were here to make a point. He described their co-sponsorship of a non-binding Senate resolution - one that passed with 75 votes - proposing three semi-autonomous regions in Iraq, one for each of the country's main religious and ethnic groups.
BIDEN: We are proof, in my view, that change in the direction of Iraqi policy does not need to be a partisan issue. To those who disagree with the solution we put forward, my question is very simple: What's your alternative?
GONYEA: Then, it was Senator Brownback's turn.
SAM BROWNBACK: I'm delighted to join with Joe on this. He's a very serious individual, is a gentleman who want to lead foreign policy people, certainly in the Congress and of our times.
GONYEA: Critics say the Biden-Brownback plan is nothing more than a partitioning of the country, creating new problems. Brownback insisted that this is not about breaking up Iraq. He noted that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has endorsed the plan.
BROWNBACK: He said that federalism is a way to devolve power and authority to the regions in Iraq in order to hold it together. Federalism isn't a way of splitting Iraq apart, it's a way of holding Iraq together.
GONYEA: The discussion and Q&A session that followed were thoughtful. The issues were complex and dealt with as such. And through it all, each candidate seemed mindful of how the other would react to his words. At one point, Biden said to the audience, I hope Sam isn't offended by this. He then went on to speak of how the Bush administration's policies have caused the U.S. credibility in the world.
In the audience, 24-year-old Drake University law student Lynzey Tharp is a Democrat who says she'll vote Democratic next year. But she was impressed with Brownback. As for the event, she said it reminded her of what she's heard about the old days in Washington, when Democrats and Republicans work together more often.
LYNZEY THARP: Absolutely. Civility is the perfect word because there seem to be true admiration or respect for a common idea.
GONYEA: Seated in the same row is 58-year-old Tom Cornelius(ph), who calls himself a hardcore Brownback supporter who's concerned about traditional family values. But, he said he agreed with everything Democrat Biden said about Iraq.
TOM CORNELIUS: It's a tremendous event. I wish the other candidates would do it. And I think this shows why I'm supporting Sam Brownback. And I think it shows why, while I don't agree with most of the other things he says, why people are supporting Senator Biden?
GONYEA: Was it all a gimmick meant to make people notice a couple of overlooked campaigns? Sure. But a lot of the people in the audience said they wish there would be more events just like it.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines.
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