Democrats Address Minority Issues, Each Other An ice storm was not enough to keep the Democratic presidential candidates from meeting in Des Moines for a debate focusing on issues of concern to minority voters. During the debate, candidates were permitted to question each other.

Democrats Address Minority Issues, Each Other

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An ice storm shut down roads and airports in Iowa yesterday. But that wasn't enough to stop the presidential campaign now roaring through the state. Democratic candidates took part in an afternoon forum and in the traditional Iowa Brown and Black Forum, which focused attention on issues affecting African-American and Hispanics in the state.

NPR's David Greene was on hand and has this report.

DAVID GREENE: Last night's forum was opened to all the candidates, but none of the Republicans showed up, so the evening was a chance for the Democrats to reach out to some important audiences - African-American and Hispanic voters.

The event also had a twist. Each candidate had a chance to post a question to someone else on stage. Senator John Edwards turned to his signature issue.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): The cause of ending poverty in America is the cause that is very central to what I want to do as president and central to my life. It is the cause of my life. And there is at least one other candidate on this stage who's also spoken strongly and eloquently about doing something about poverty in America. That's Senator Obama. And I applaud him for having done that. I think our voices together are more powerful than our voices alone.

GREENE: Edwards has been taking every opportunity to attack the national frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. But last night, Edwards used his question time to give Barack Obama the floor.

Mr. EDWARDS: My question to Senator Obama is will he commit with me to commit as president of the United States to push for raising the minimum wage to at least nine and a half dollars an hour and have it indexed to go up on its own?

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democratic, Illinois): The answer is yes. And John…

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: Raising the minimum wage, Obama said, is just one way to help the black and Latino communities.

Sen. OBAMA: When America gets the cold, black and brown America get pneumonia, we've got pneumonia right now. Americans got a cold and we're moving in that direction. And we've got to do something about it. We've got to strengthen our unions. We have to raise the minimum wage and make sure not it's - it's not every 10 years, but it's keeping pace with inflation. It's got to be a livable wage.

GREENE: He also said that tax code favors the wealthy and should be reformed. The evening's moderators were Ray Suarez from the "NewsHour" on PBS and NPR's Michele Norris, who asked about the public schools and whether they're growing more segregated.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd said that's something the president should resist.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democratic, Connecticut): I think we deprive our children tremendously in this country, if we don't provide them with the opportunity to have that educational benefit of working and living with people of different races, colors and ethnic groups, that's a major setback for our country. And the American president, utilizing the bully pulpit of the Oval Office, needs to make that case every single day if we're going to succeed in this effort.

GREENE: The only Hispanic on stage was New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. At one point, he lodged to complaint.

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democratic, New Mexico): Michele, as the only brown member in this debate, is there any chance we could have civil rights equity and have the brown guy get a little more time?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: The governor got his wish. And a few minutes later, got his chance to ask someone else a question. He turned to Hillary Clinton.

Gov. RICHARDSON: And my question to Senator Clinton is don't you think that governors make good presidents? And…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democratic, New York): Well, Bill, I think they also make good vice presidents.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: The forum went on despite bad weather. It forced Delaware Senator Joe Biden to drive seven hours from Chicago, arriving on stage nearly an hour into the debate and being greeted by Suarez.

Mr. RAY SUAREZ (Moderator; Correspondent, "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer"): Senator, if I can give you a chance to brush the sleet off your lapels and get the mic(ph) up and…

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): I apologize, and I don't have a plane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: The issue at that moment was immigration and its effect on job availability for African-Americans. And Biden was ready to jump right in.

Sen. BIDEN: This is not a zero sum game. I was offstage hearing about black and Hispanic. Look, that's what white boys have done a long time, banging people against one another. Let's get this straight. It has nothing to do with black versus Hispanic. There's plenty of opportunity for both.

GREENE: Suarez cited a finding that car accidents are a leading cause of death for Latino men. He noted that Hillary Clinton recently opposed granting a type of New York State driver's license to illegal immigrants. Clinton acknowledged the argument that driver's licenses might help insure illegal immigrants learn to drive safely.

Sen. CLINTON: But the real problem is that in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, you're asking the state, you're asking officials of the state, like the people of the Department of Motor Vehicles, to, in effect, ratify someone who is not here legally as someone who is going to be given a privilege, a document from the state. And, you know, it just didn't bear up under a lot of scrutiny.

GREENE: One highlight of the evening came when Michele Norris gave Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich his chance to ask a candidate-to-candidate question. And Kucinich proceeded to question himself.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): Congressman Kucinich, is it true that you're the only one sitting up here - oh, yeah - is it true that you're the only one sitting up here who advocates a universal single-payer, not-for-profit health care system which would result in all 46 million Americans who are not insured and another 50 million Americans who are under-insured from being - for being covered? And the answer to that question is…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. KUCINICH: …it is true.

GREENE: Candidates will meet next this Tuesday afternoon in a debate sponsored by NPR and Iowa Public Radio.

David Greene, NPR News, Des Moines.

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