Liveblogging the Carson City AFSCME Forum
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 09:55:05 AM EST
In the interest of as clear disclosure as possible, my trip to Nevada has been sponsored by AFSCME.
I'm now in the Carson City Community Center for the first Democratic presidential forum ahead of the Nevada caucuses. The event is sponsored by AFSCME and will feature all announced candidates for the Democratic nomination, with the exception of Barack Obama. You can catch the whole event over on C-SPAN, either via television or the website, and follow along with my liveblog on this thread.
Note: Wrapups of all of the candidates below the fold. And in a few minutes, a broad look at the afternoon's event.
The forum is just starting right now. For the first time during this campaign, to my knowledge, all of the candidates in attendence in an event are sharing a stage. Now, Majority Leader Harry Reid takes the stage to kick off the forum officially. Reid: "The future of the Democratic Party is in the West." Reid calls to the stage AFSCME national president Gerald McEntee, who thanks Reid for helping bring Nevada to the early parts of the nominating process. McEntee notes that this is the first -- the first -- presidential forum of the 2008 cycle. Moderator George Stephanopoulos takes over the helm and introduces the first candidate, Chris Dodd.
Once again, Chris Dodd is the first candididate up on stage. Dodd speaks of bringing the country together through "optimism and confidence." He highlights his extensive experience, stating that he believes the next Democratic presidential nominee needs to have a long record in public service and achievements. Dodd scores major points with the crowd by correcting Stephanopoulos mispronunciation of Nevada. Dodd garners quite a bit of laughter within the audience, as well as strong applause lines; his reception seems even better than what he received at the DNC winter meetings in Washington a few weeks back. Prompted by Stephanopoulos, Dodd emphatically states that his vote in favor of the Iraq War "was a mistake", but that it is more important that we move forward at this point than think backward -- and that's it's time to end the war. Stephanopoulos asks if withdrawal of American troops would lead to chaos in Baghdad; Dodd responds that it would be difficult to increase the amount of chaos in the city.
Up second today is Hillary Clinton, who also receives a strong initial response from the crowd. Clinton speaks directly to the issues facing unions and working Americans, like those who are members of AFSCME. She states that she is strongly opposed to the privatization of the federal government, which elicits a positive response. Promises universal healthcare, as well as moves to improve America's educational system and its energy situation. To lead, Stephanopoulos asks Clinton about her position on Iraq, why her vote wasn't a mistake. Clinton states that she has "taken responsibility for" her vote, that no one should be let off the hook for their vote. At the same time, she explains that she has sponsored legislation to stop the escalation and that she supports passing new authorization legislation for the Iraq War. On the question of whether universal healthcare coverage is achievable, Clinton draws some chuckles when she harkens back to her last battle, but states that she believes that it can be done without significantly increasing the amount of money spent on healthcare. States that her timeline is by the end of her second term. On the question of her spat with Barack Obama over David Geffen's comments, she says it should be up to "the other campaign" to decide if they should disavow the comments and that she's happy to be in Nevada (a notable jab at Obama, who is not here). Clinton skips her closing statement, quizzically.
Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack takes the stage third, jokes about the fact that he's supposed to talk about AFSCME, Reid, etc. "but I won't". Instead leaves his opening to talk about Iraq, in relation to a recent conversation with a young boy in Seattle and his concerns about Iraq. Asks the crowd, "What have you done... to end the war in Iraq?" Stephanopoulos asks that exact question first. Vilsack lays out his plan to end the war now, additionally stating that he believes the troops should be moved to Afghanistan. The second question covers healthcare, specifically the John Edwards plan, to which Vilsack responds, "We absolutely do need universal coverage," though not necessarily by increasing taxes. But he also talks about dealing with wellness, pointing to curing polio, etc. Final question covers Social Security and Medicare. Vilsack talks about balancing the budget of these programs by reindexing the program to prices, not prices and wages. Closes his appearance talking about his own personal story.
The fourth candidate on the stage is John Edwards. Talks about working with AFSCME in Nevada to increase the minimum wage in Nevada, and a handful of other states, in 2006. States that he believes that organized labor has been the most effective anti-poverty tool in American history, also endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr., Edwards states that he believes that America can't stand silent when dealing with the issue of healthcare, that moves towards universal healthcare should begin during start of his administration. States that others who say they can achieve universal coverage without increasing revenue "might want to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn." Finally states that "we need to be leaving Iraq." Implicitly attacks candidates who won't admit that their support for the Iraq War was a mistake. Stephanopoulos asks a question directly aimed at this point, specifically how it appears aimed at Clinton, which Edwards doesn't directly address, though he does touch on his thoughtmaking process on the issue. Stephanopoulos follows up to ask if Edwards is just taking the politically popular stance now, as he did in 2002 when he supported the war. Edwards responds that it will be up to voters to gauge whether they believe he is being sincere. On the final question, outsourcing, Edwards states that he believes that we need to be "smarter" about our approach to globalization and also that there needs to be an opportunity for kids to pay for college, perhaps through service. To conclude, Edwards talks about the need for America to be the leader in this world, on issues like global warming and healthcare, but also morally.
Candidate five, after the break, is Bill Richardson. Says to achieve all of the great things for America -- strengthen the middle class, improve America, etc. -- is "to elect a Democrat." Calls again for a pledge against negative campaigning for the party nomination, as he did at the DNC winter meetings. Talks about the need for a Democratic candidate who can win across the country and to bring people together. States that "governors actually do things" -- a direct jab at the perceived frontrunners, who all have or do serve in the Senate. Lists off his achievements that play well in this crowd -- card check, increasing jobs, etc. Also talks about deauthorizing the war in Iraq, improving our schools, achieving universal healthcare, fighting global climate change and the Employee Free Choice Act. Makes a joke about going on past the time limit -- as he did at the DNC winter meetings. On the first question from Stephanopoulos, Richardson states that he does believe Barack Obama should denounce David Geffen's comments, that he believes there should be a positive campaign for the nomination, because "that's what the American people want and that's how we're going to win." On the question of taxes for universal healthcare, Richardson says they are not necessary, that the Democrats should not always be about raising taxes. States that instead administrative costs should be cut and preventative care should be increased, pointing to a "Massachusetts-style plan" (not much applause there) and talks about expanding current programs to cover everyone (does get applause here). Final question covers WTO trade agreements, to which Richardson says we need fair trade, not just unabashed free trade, with agreements that cover environmental and workplace regulations. In his closing statement, Richardson also talks about the need for experience, touching on his work as UN Ambassador and his recent negotiations in Darfur.
Candidate six for the afternoon is Joe Biden, who start off by signing on to Richardson's all-positive pledge and jokes about his longwindedness. His is noticeably more upbeat than two weeks ago at the DNC winter meetings, which came on the heels of his inopportune comments about Barack Obama. States that he believes the central issue of this campaign is not only Iraq, but what to do after we get out of Iraq. Biden, again, is the only candidate to come in under the time restrictions. In the questions segment, Biden admits that he grossly underestimated the incompetence of the Bush administration. Relatedly, he states that he is the only candidate to talk about the political solution to solve the internal problems within Iraq, likening the situation to the one in the Balkans a decade ago. The second question is a follow up on the same issuem, to which Biden responds by talking about revoking the authorization of war. The final question covers No Child Left Behind. Biden notes that the woman he's slept with for the last 30 years is a teacher. Says that we need smaller classrooms, keeping good teachers in the system, and finding money for children qualified to attend college. Biden's closing also talks about experience, as well as the stregth to achieve what needs to be achieved.
The second to last speaker is Dennis Kucinich, who notes that he always has a 100 percent ranking from AFSCME. Kucinich comes out swinging at his competitors, stating that they shouldn't have been tricked or deceived by President Bush on the issue of the Iraq War. On the first question, Kucinich says it's time to end the occupation and cut off the funds for the war. Kucinich also calls for reparations for the citizens of Iraq, and that the number one reason for the war was oil. Question two hits healthcare, whether more money needs to be made available for healthcare funding. Kucinich talks about extending Medicare to cover everyone -- without for-profit insurance companies. Final question covers union worker rights for public sector employees. Kucinich says he believes it's necessary, and that our trade agreements need to include labor restrictions. To close, Kucinich makes a clear pitch to the left of the party, implying that he is the best candidate in this regard.
Today's final candidate is Mike Gravel, who states that believes the most important issue is how the Democrats approach Iraq. Gravel hammers the "Democrat leadership" for trying to go after President Bush on Iraq without revoking the President's power to wage war. Question one covers why Democrats should choose someone who has been out of elective politics for so long, to which Gravel responds with his record of fighting the war in Vietnam during the 1970s. Asked who he should get the nomination if not him, he stated the governors -- Vilsack first, Richardson second. On a tangent, Gravel calls for the repeal of the income tax, instead replacing it with a national sales tax. Stephanopoulos tries to stop the answer after quite a few minutes, but can't quite bring himself to doing it. The last question comes on public financing for campaign, which he strongly advocates on behalf of. In his closing, Gravel states (paraphrasing) "I don't think it's a big deal whether I get elected or not," basically admitting that his campaign is more about putting forward his big issue -- a national initiative process -- than anything else.
Tags: AFSCME, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, Democratic primaries, Dennis Kucinich, Hilliary Clinton, joe biden, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Nevada Caucuses, Presidential Race 2008, Tom Vilsack (all tags)