Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate in New Hampshire on Iraq, Domestic Policy Issues and Gore’s Endorsement of Dean

StoryDecember 10, 2003
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The final democratic presidential debate of the year drew all nine candidates in New Hampshire last night where the first primary takes place on Jan. 27, 2004.

The debate got underway just hours after former vice president Al Gore announced his endorsement of former Vermont governor Howard Dean for president in a move that surprised many campaign observers. Gore, who ran for president in 2000 and won the popular vote, made his announcement in Harlem alongside Dean who is already seen as the frontrunner in the campaign. For Dean, the endorsement gives him the backing of one of the best-known establishment Democrats.

The debate, broadcast live on C-SPAN, turned immediately to Gore’s move. Noting that Dean had had an “extraordinary day,” moderator Ted Koppel of ABC News asked the nine candidates to raise a hand if they thought Dean could beat President Bush.

Dean was the only one to raise his hand.

Koppel began the debate by asking the other eight candidates why they did not raise their hands and went on to discuss U.S. policy in Iraq as well as domestic policy issues. We hear extended excerpts of the debate and speak with former Green Party California gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo and journalist John Nichols of The Nation.

Read transcript of the debate


  • Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun (IL)
  • General Wesley Clark (Ret.)
  • Former Governor Howard Dean (VT)
  • U.S. Senator John Edwards (NC)
  • U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt (MO)
  • U.S. Senator John F. Kerry (MA)
  • U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (OH)
  • U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT)
  • The Reverend Al Sharpton


  • John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine and the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin’s Capital Times. He the author of two books: It’s the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.
  • Peter Camejo, 2003 Green Party candidate in the California gubernatorial race.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for The Nation” magazine and Peter CAMEJO, who was the Green Party candidate in the total recall election that took place in California. For comment on the Democratic Presidential debate, the last of the year that took place last night in New Hampshire. John Nichols, your thoughts?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, Amy, I was — I think the highlight had to be Wesley Clark saying he had never thought about how he would react to an endorsement from Bill Clinton. It was to me one of the funniest lines I had ever heard because Clark was brought into the race by Clinton.

I have to say, overall, I thought the debate was probably the best so far. And not for the intents of its organizers and certainly not by Ted Koppel’s intent, but because come went way overboard at the start and focusing on process, endorsements, polls, fund raising.

He opened up a door that I don’t think he expected to, and that was really the one that Dennis Kucinich ran through with that very powerful — couple of very powerful early statements about what media does and how media warps the process. And I think that when Kucinich and Moseley-Braun and Sharpton especially pushed that open, Koppel was chastened. If you saw in the second half of the debate, there was a remarkable discussion about the war. A far better discussion than we have seen in congress or any place else in the media that I know of. I have never seen somebody on, you know, an evening television on a major network getting the four to five minutes that Dennis Kucinich got to talk seriously about the difference between opposing the war and supporting the occupation. Or what Sharpton said following up on him.

I actually thought from a standpoint of getting real dialogue in the process, this is a far better debate than most.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the issue of General Clark, and the Clintons. I don’t think a lot of people understand that dynamic. And you have also been talking about the person who wasn’t at this debate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who went to Iraq, and Afghanistan recently. Perhaps she was the real reason that President Bush went to Iraq and swooped in under cover of night to get there a few minutes before she did. But can you bring her and them into this conversation.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, look, Wesley Clark is from Arkansas. He has known Bill Clinton since the 1960’s. They’re not close, close friends but when Clinton was in the White House, he and Clark had almost a symbiotic relationship as regards to the balance cans. At times going around the rest of the military leadership and Clinton’s own civil defense leadership. They know each other and they’re on the same wavelength. If you look at Clark’s campaign structure, it’s riddled with former Clinton staffers. It’s run by Clinton people. Whether Bill and/or Hillary Clinton ultimately decide to endorse Wesley Clark is still up in the air, but there’s no question. HeÂ’s the Clinton candidate.

And when Ted Koppel asked that question, it was — it was a legitimate question, a totally appropriate one. Clark’s answer was dramatically disingenuous. He tried to throw it off and when Koppel pressed him, Clark aggressively said he never thought about the question, never thought about how he would react to a Clinton endorsement,

AMY GOODMAN: but this idea of a Hillary Clinton-General Clark ticket?

JOHN NICHOLS: —or that Clark is in there to hold space for Hillary Clinton.

AMY GOODMAN: Or that she would come at the end. I watched Terry Mcauliffe, the head of the Democratic National Committee being questioned about what Hillary Clinton — would Hillary Clinton be entering in at the time of the convention a brokered convention. He rejected it and said they changed the schedule so that Democratic candidate would be chosen earlier than usual.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, you see, that’s right, Amy, but this changing of the schedule was done by Terry Mcauliffe to make sure that Terry Mcauliffe and people like him in the fund raising apparatus are able to control the process. Howard Dean has thrown it off. He may not be the greatest candidate, but he wasn’t their anointed candidate as he has caused him a lot of trouble. Al Gore, who doesn’t like Terry Mcauliffe has thrown another wrench into the operation by endorsing Dean.

The bottom line if you ended up with a Dean-Clark face off, a rough battle through a number of primaries, and you had a lot of close results, it is entirely possible, in fact, likely that you could end up with a situation where by the end of the primaries, in early March, no candidate has the majority of delegates. With this large of a field, that’s reasonable to imagine, although certainly not certain Dean is ahead. If you ended up with no candidates and the majority of delegates but Howard Dean out in front, closest to the nomination you could see a situation where Clark, Gephardt, Lieberman, maybe Kerry unite and say, ”We’ll throw our delegates to hurricane Isabel”. That’s where you end up with the classic brokered convention. it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Also joined by Peter Camejo, Green Party candidate in California to talk about the debate that’s happening at the same time which was the election of San Francisco, now Democrat Gavin Newsome, narrowly beating Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez for San Francisco major. Can you talk about that race as well, as well as your reaction to this debate?

PETER CAMEJO: Well, first, I think we ought to look at an interesting sidelight here that tells us something about the American electoral system. When I ran for Governor in the recall, I got 7% of the vote in San Francisco. We just got 47% of the vote last night. What that means is people are perfectly willing to vote for a Green, and I think that would — they would be perfectly willing to vote for Dennis Kuscinich or candidates that are being rejected.

The electoral system doesn’t allow it when you don’t have a runoff system in place and I.R.B. instant voting, a form through which people can vote. People are forced in trying to calculate their lesser evil choice, and throw their support in that direction. The Democrats do have in some states proportional representation. People will feel free to vote for whoever they want. The electoral system is not set up like that. That’s hurting the candidates expressing a more definitive anti-war view.

The truth is in the debate of the democrats, the major dm candidates, the Democratic Party leadership is not against what Bush has done, it’s how he has done it.

They wanted the U.N. to be the one that invades and takes over Iraq.

They want to share the spoils with Germany and France. They want more international allies when they do their illegal international creations of the empire. You know, I think in America, we need to debate this. One of things — once the primaries are over, there will be no voice against George Bush unless the Green runs.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Camejo on the issue of the San Francisco election.

PETER CAMEJO: Let me just say it’s been absolutely amazing. I think that is a good analysis has to be made of what happened in San Francisco. I sensed for the first time the same generational split that we had in the 1960’s here in San Francisco.

The youth massively voted for Matt Gonzalez, and of course, the Democrat, who you call a Democrat, endorsed-he gave money to George Bush. He didn’t endorse him, by gave money to George Bush in the year 2000.

He was on George Bush’s voter slate in the year 2000. He won last night because the Republicans voted for him in a block. We couldn’t overcome that. We won among the registered Democrats. We won among registered Independents. We carried all of the Greens. We could not overcome 13 to 15% of the voters were Republicans. If you we move that from Newsome the Green, Gonzalez, completely killed Newsome in San Francisco. next time we just have to get the vote out more. As the vote went up, and especially in the Latino community and among young people the vote went up and we just didn’t have the money they had. they had $5 million and some people tell me it’s $10 million with the soft money, we had $500,000.

Yet we only lost by 2.5% more and we would have won.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, are you for Ralph Nader running for the — on the Green Party Presidential line?

We’ll be having him on this week and I’d like people to comment at

PETER CAMEJO: I think if the Greens do not run, that helps Bush get re-elected. I really think that we want to throw Bush out, and to do that, you have got to have the voice of someone like Ralph Nader on their on TV continuously explaining to the people who vote for Bush what’s wrong with Bush’s policy. And what’s wrong with it is not that he didn’t do it right. It’s not that he didn’t invade or like Hillary Clinton says, we have to have more soldiers there. We have to dominate these countries. We have to explain this — we haven’t had the rule of law internationally.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much for being with us. Again, Ralph Nader will be on. Let us know what you think at

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