The front-runner for the Democratic party's nomination for president is calling on his fellow candidates to work together to defeat President Bush. The candidate -- who has come under sharp attack from his Democratic opponents -- made his comments at the first Democratic presidential debate of the new year, in the state of Iowa Sunday.
Prior to Sunday's debate, several of the Democratic candidates were on television talk shows criticizing outspoken front-runner Howard Dean, who has made campaign comments that angered segments of the American population. His opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination have accused the Vermont governor of being too hot-headed and not a viable candidate to beat President Bush.
Despite the criticism, Governor Dean urged his Democratic contenders to support whomever ends up as the party's candidate.
"I've repeatedly said -- because we've got to beat George Bush -- that I will vigorously support the nominee of the Democratic party. I will vigorously encourage all my supporters to do the same," Mr. Deans said. "I will campaign for the Democratic nominee of this party, should it not be me. And I'd like to find out who on this stage agrees that they will vigorously support the Democratic nominee."
On that issue, Governor Dean got unanimous approval. But on other topics like foreign trade and Iraq, opinions were more diverse.
Congressman Dick Gephardt, from Missouri, criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement -- or NAFTA -- as bad policy. And, in an answer to fellow candidate John Edwards -- a U.S. senator from North Carolina who supported China's entry into the World Trade Organization -- Mr. Gephardt said China's membership resulted in thousands of American jobs lost.
"It's [support for China to join the WTO] had a bad impact here in Iowa and it's had a bad impact in your state of North Carolina," said Mr. Gephardt. "One of the biggest textile makers has closed all of its plants across the country -- 60 thousand jobs lost."
Joe Lieberman, a U.S. senator from Connecticut, countered the argument. "We can't create jobs by building up walls of protectionism. I looked at the stats. In Iowa, one-fifth of the manufacturing jobs in this state -- by the number I saw, more than 100-thousand -- are dependent on trade," he said. "The top two and three markets for goods from Iowa -- both agriculture-grown goods and manufactured -- are Canada and Mexico, the countries we're in NAFTA with."
Candidate Dennis Kucinich, a U.S. congressman from Ohio who trails in support nationwide, had the most extreme views. He said he would completely cancel U.S. participation in NAFTA and the WTO. On Iraq, he said he feels the more than $150 billion the U.S. government has already spent there is money being taken away from domestic programs.
"[The] president of the United States released a budget which shows cuts in veterans benefits, in education, in healthcare and in housing and a whole range of job programs," said Mr. Kucinich. "I contend that this is related directly to the drain on the federal budget that is occurring because we're in Iraq."
Carol Moseley-Braun, a former U.S. Senator from Illinois and the only female candidate, said she thinks pulling out of Iraq is not so easy. "We can't just cut and run. We blew the place up," she said. "We have a responsibility to at least fix it back."
Sunday's debate also included John Kerry, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Two candidates -- retired General Wesley Clark and civil rights activist Al Sharpton -- did not participate.
The debate comes two weeks before the Iowa caucus -- the country's first contest for national delegates, who will select a Democratic candidate to challenge President Bush in an election later this year.