Democratic Presidential Debate Targets Clinton A recurring theme in the Democratic debate at Drexel University in Philadelphia was whether anyone can knock New York Sen. Hillary Clinton off her stride as the presumptive nominee.

Democratic Presidential Debate Targets Clinton

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attributes this statement to one of her friends: When you get to be our age, it's kind of nice to have all these men obsessed with you.

The men Clinton referred to on MSNBC were Republican candidates who've attacked her. Senator Clinton could now add more men to her list - many of the Democrats running for president. Her rivals took the opportunity of a debate in Philadelphia to challenge their party's frontrunner.

And we start our coverage this morning with NPR's David Greene who attended that debate.

DAVID GREENE: It was obvious from the first minute that this night was going to be about Hillary Clinton. NBC's Brian Williams, the moderator, turned to Barack Obama and asked about his recent accusation that Hillary Clinton has been voting like a Republican.

Mr. BRIAN WILLIAMS (Moderator, Democratic Presidential Debate, NBC): That is a strong charge, as you're aware. Specifically, what are the issues where you, Senator Obama, and Senator Clinton have differed, where you think she has sounded or voted like a Republican?

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Well, first of all, I think some of this stuff gets overhyped. In fact, I think this has been the most hyped fight since Rocky fought Apollo Creed, although the amazing thing is I'm Rocky in this situation…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: But…

GREENE: Obama went on to say that Clinton has changed her position on issues like trade, the definition of torture and the Iraq war.

Sen. OBAMA: She voted for a war to authorize sending troops into Iraq, and then later said this was a war for diplomacy. I don't think that - now that may be politically savvy, but I don't think that it offers the clear contrast that we need.

GREENE: Clinton was standing next to Obama. She calmly listened to him and defended herself, saying she's actually been fighting against Republican policies for a long time.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): On every issue from health care for children to an energy policy that puts us on the right track to deal with climate change and make us more secure, I have been standing against the Republicans, George Bush and Dick Cheney, and I will continue to do so. And I think Democrats know that.

GREENE: But the Democrats on stage with her didn't let up. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut went after Clinton for voting in favor of an anti-Iran resolution favored by the Bush administration.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Presidential Candidate): I believe that this issue is going to come back to haunt us. We all learned - some of us here painfully - back in 2002, that by voting for an authorization regarding Iraq, that despite the language of that resolution, which called for diplomacy at the time, this administration used that resolution, obviously, to pursue a very aggressive action in Iraq.

GREENE: Senator John Edwards jumped on the same vote. He suggested that if President Bush were to invade Iran, Clinton may offer the same explanation she gave for authorizing force in Iraq.

Senator JOHN EDWARDS (Democrat, North Carolina; Presidential Candidate): I mean, are we going to hear, 'If I only I had known then what I know now? Well, we know enough now to know we have to stand up to this president.

GREENE: And so it went for much of the debate. Obama, Edwards and others took their swings at Senator Clinton. But no one connected until late in the debate when NBC's Tim Russert, the co-moderator, brought up a decision by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to offer a type of driver's license to people in the country illegally.

Russert asked Clinton specifically…

Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Co-moderator, Democratic Presidential Debate; NBC): Do you support his plan?

Sen. CLINTON: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha. It makes a lot of sense, what is the governor supposed to do. He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed, and George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of a real desperation trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York, we want to know who's in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows. He's making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.

GREENE: Edwards saw an opening.

Sen. EDWARDS: Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes - just a few minutes ago. And I think this is a real issue for the country. I mean, America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them.

GREENE: Obama dove at this chance as well.

Sen. OBAMA: I was confused on Senator Clinton's answer. I can't tell whether she was for it or against it, and I do think that is important. One of the things that we have to do in this country is to be honest about the challenges that we face.

GREENE: But not all Clinton's rivals joined in. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said he thought the campaign should stay positive, and Delaware Senator Joe Biden said he was not running against Hillary Clinton, but to lead the free world.

And as always, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich tried to differentiate himself from all others on stage. He called for impeachment of President Bush, an end to funding the war in Iraq, and a new system of health care paid for by the federal government.

But nothing distinguished Kucinich as much as when he was asked whether the rumor about him was true.

Mr. RUSSERT: Now, did you see a UFO?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio; Presidential Candidate): I did. And the rest of the account though - I didn't - I - it was an unidentified flying object, okay? It's like — it's unidentified. I saw something.

GREENE: In the end, for everyone but Clinton, it was another night of chasing the leader and hoping Democratic voters will have too many doubts about Clinton to hand her the nomination in the first few weeks of voting.

David Greene, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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