The seven Democratic Party candidates for President debated domestic and foreign policy issues Thursday night in the U.S. state of South Carolina, less than a week before Democratic voters in the state vote in the south's first primary. Instead of criticizing each other as they have done in the past, the seven Democratic candidates spent much of their time criticizing the foreign and domestic policies of the Bush administration.
John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman, Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark, John Edwards and Howard Dean all said the Bush administration had failed the American public on foreign and domestic issues.
All except Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman had harsh words for President Bush's policies in Iraq and on foreign trade. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who now appears to be the Democratic front-runner, says if elected, he will rebuild what he described as America's broken alliances.
"I will renew our alliances," he promised. "I will rejoin the community of nations, I will build the kind of cooperative effort that we need in order to be able to win the war on terror, which [also means being engaged] in the Middle East economically, socially, culturally in a way we have not embraced. Otherwise we are inviting a clash of civilizations. I think this administration's arrogant and ideological policy is taking America down a more dangerous path. I will make Americans safer than they are."
Much of the debate focused on the high cost of health care and the loss of jobs to foreign competition. Over the past three years, South Carolina has lost approximately 69,000 jobs, mostly in the textile industry, to foreign competition. North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who was born in the state and who until recently was the heavy favorite here, says not enough is being done to help the unemployed.
"I have seen this my entire life growing up," he said. "I have seen mills close, and I have seen what it does to communities. I have seen what it does to families. All this talk among politicians in Washington about how we are going to get you a job training program, and make sure you get the transportation to get to a new job, say that to a 50 or 55 year-old man who has been supporting his family his entire life working in a mill."
According to recent polls, Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are locked in a tight race for first place, with civil rights activist Al Sharpton trailing, a distant third. More than half of the voters in next Tuesday's South Carolina primary are expected to be African Americans, and Mr. Sharpton says he expects many of those voters to give a boost to his candidacy.