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Democratic Candidates Take Aim at Bush - 2004-02-16

The five remaining candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination met in a televised debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sunday, just two days before that state's primary. The candidates all took aim at President Bush and avoided conflict with each other.

All five Democratic candidates attacked President Bush for his handling of the war in Iraq and the economy and, for the most part, left each other alone.

The front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina were both asked if they felt any responsibility for the war in Iraq given the fact that they had both voted to give the president the authority to use military force. Senator Kerry went first, criticizing the way President Bush had used the authority Congress gave him.

Kerry: This president chose the wrong way and rushed to war. He is now spending billions of American taxpayers' dollars that we did not need to spend this way had he built a legitimate coalition and has put our troops at risk.

Moderator: You cast the same vote, senator, is that the way you see it?

Edwards: That is the longest answer to a "yes-or-no question" I ever heard. The answer to your question is of course.

Senator Edwards went on to say that everyone involved in the process bears some responsibility for the war. But, he said President Bush should have had more countries involved in the effort to rebuild Iraq.

Senator Edwards found his best footing on the issue that has gained him the most support so far in the campaign -- job losses from corporations shifting production to other nations. "The very idea that we give tax breaks to American companies who are leaving and going overseas and taking jobs with them is absolutely crazy when we are losing millions of jobs," he says. "What we should be doing instead is give tax breaks to companies that, in fact, are keeping jobs right here in America."

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean also weighed in on this issue, blaming free trade agreements for the job losses. "Free trade agreements were justified, but we have solved only half the problem. We have globalized the rights of big corporations to do business anywhere in the world," he says. "We did not globalize human rights, labor rights and environmental rights and we need to do that."

Senator Kerry, who voted for free-trade agreements in the past said he would no longer support any agreement that does not include provisions to enforce labor and environmental standards.

Public opinion polls here in Wisconsin give Senator Kerry a commanding lead, but Senator Edwards is seen as building strength for a strong second-place finish. Howard Dean, who had said he needed to win Wisconsin to stay in the race, has indicated that he will continue regardless of what happens in Tuesday's vote, but most analysts say he is likely to quit if he does poorly.