The four remaining Democratic presidential candidates took aim at each other, but reserved their sharpest criticisms for President Bush, in their last debate before the so-called Super Tuesday elections, when 10 U.S. states hold primaries or caucuses. Some of the top issues during the debate in New York included Haiti, trade, and Iraq.
Democratic frontrunner, Senator John Kerry, said he would have responded to the situation in Haiti before letting it get out of hand.
Mr. Kerry's closest challenger, Senator John Edwards, said Haiti is an example of how he believes the United States should be engaged around the world, to stop problems before they happen. "One of the most serious problems with this administration is they talk about a doctrine of pre-emption, how about a doctrine of prevention, where America leads and stays engaged with these problems," he said.
On trade, Senator Kerry responded to criticism from Senator Edwards, by saying if he were elected president, he would make worker rights an integral part of any trade agreement. I am not only going to have a 120-day review of every trade agreement, so that we have smart, thoughtful people look at what is working and what is not working, but [Edwards] knows very well that I have pledged for a number of years that we should have no trade agreement that does not also have labor and environmental standards contained within it," he said.
Both Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards refrained from directly criticizing the June 30 date for transition of power in Iraq, saying the success of the handover will depend on the situation in Iraq at the time. Congressman Dennis Kucinich repeated his view that bringing U.S. troops home should be the number one priority. "You have a 130,000 troops there, you have all kinds of families wondering, 'When are my sons and daughters, mothers and fathers going to come home?" I have been the only one up here throughout this whole campaign talking about a specific plan for a withdrawal. We have to find a way to bring U.N. peacekeepers in and to bring our troops home. That is what we ought to be talking about here," he said.
Meanwhile, Candidate Al Sharpton angrily took issue with what he saw as an attempt to turn the Democratic presidential contest into an exclusive two-way race between the number one and number two candidates. "I want us [all four Democratic candidates] to be able to respond or then tell us you want a two-way debate," he said.
Senator Kerry has won 18 of the 20 Democratic contests so far. Senator Edwards won the contest in one state, while the remaining victory went to retired General Wesley Clark, who has dropped out of the race. Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Kucinich are trailing in the polls.
If Senator Kerry sweeps the Super Tuesday contests, he could largely wrap up the Democratic party's nomination. But even if that happens, Senator Edwards has vowed not to drop out.