Democratic White House hopefuls conceded Wednesday night
they cannot guarantee to pull all U.S. combat troops
from Iraq by the end of the next presidential term in
''I think it's
hard to project four years from now,'' said Sen. Barack
Obama of Illinois in the opening moments of a campaign
debate in the nation's first primary state.
''It is very
difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting,'' added
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
''I cannot make
that commitment,'' said former senator John Edwards of
opening, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico
governor Bill Richardson provided the assurances the others
''I'll get the
job done,'' said Dodd, while Richardson said he would make
sure the troops were home by the end of his first year in
blended with domestic issues at the debate on a Dartmouth
College stage, and several of the contenders endorsed
payroll tax increases to assure a stable Social
Sen. Joseph Biden
of Delaware and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio as well as
Dodd, Obama, and Edwards all said they would apply the tax
to income now exempted.
he wouldn't and Clinton refused to say. ''I'm not putting
anything on the proverbial table'' unilaterally, she said.
levies a 6.2% payroll tax only on an individual's first
$97,500 in annual income.
Biden also said
he was willing to consider gradually raising the
retirement age, which is now 67.
that while he favors taxing additional income, he wants to
return the retirement age to 65, where it stood until the
law was changed in 1983.
Health care and
the drive for universal coverage also figured in the
''I intend to be
the health care president,'' said Clinton, adding that
she can now succeed at an undertaking that defeated her in
1993 when she was first lady.
But Biden said
that unnamed special interests were no more willing to
work with Clinton now than they were more than a decade ago.
suggesting it's Hillary's fault.... It's reality,'' he said,
carefully avoiding a personal attack on the Democrat who
leads in the polls.
Biden said a
''lot of old stuff comes back'' from past battles, adding,
''when I say old stuff I mean policy. Policy.''
Across the stage,
Clinton smiled at that.
The moment was
not the only one in which attention turned to the former
first lady, a campaign front-runner bidding to become the
first woman president.
presidential libraries and foundations should disclose
their donors, she said she had sponsored legislation
requiring it. Asked whether her husband's foundation
should voluntary disclose, absent a requirement, she
said, ''you'll have to ask them.''
''I don't talk
about my private conversations with my husband,'' she
She seemed to
suggest differently at another point, after being asked
whether she would ever approve torturing a suspected
terrorist to prevent the detonation of a big bomb.
She said no, and
moderator Tim Russert of NBC News said former president
Clinton, her husband, once suggested it might be
''Well, he's not
standing here right now,'' she said, an edge in her
There is a
disagreement, Russert rejoined.
''Well, I'll talk
to him later,'' she said with a smile.
A question about
lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 drew a cheer
from the students listening in the Dartmouth auditorium.
of support only from former senator Mike Gravel of Alaska
question of the two-hour debate instantly plunged the eight
contenders into the issue that has dominated all others --
the war in Iraq.
With the primary
season approaching, all eight have vied with increasing
intensity for the support of antiwar voters likely to
provide money and organizing muscle as the campaign
Edwards said his
position on Iraq was different from that of Obama and
Clinton, adding he would ''immediately drawn down 40,000 to
50,000 troops.'' That's roughly half the 100,000 that
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq,
has indicated could be stationed there when President
Bush's term ends in January 2009.
Edwards sought to
draw a distinction between his position and Clinton's,
saying she had said recently she wants to continue combat
missions in Iraq.
''I do not want
to continue combat missions in Iraq,'' he said.
quickly, saying Edwards had misstated her position. She
said she favors the continued deployment of counterterrorism
troops, not forces to engage in the type of combat now
they were prepared to use force to prevent Iran from
becoming a nuclear power, several of the hopefuls
sidestepped. Instead, they said, all diplomacy must be
exhausted in the effort.
about Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani's
pledge to set back Iran by eight to 10 years if it tries to
gain nuclear standing.
anger at the mention of the former New York mayor. ''Rudy
Giuliani doesn't know what the heck he's talking about,''
said Delaware senator, who is chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee.
''He's the most
uninformed person on foreign policy that's now running
unfolded in the state that has held the first presidential
primary in every campaign for generations.
The contest is
tentatively scheduled for January 22, but that is expected
to change as other states maneuver for early voting position
in the campaign calendar.
The debate was
broadcast on MSNBC, New Hampshire Public Radio, and New
England Cable News. (Beth Fouhy, AP)