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Nevada Voters Weigh Democratic Debate

Democratic presidential hopefuls exchanged their most overt attacks yet in a Thursday night debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In the last of the NewsHour's Big Picture reports from Las Vegas, a panel of Nevada voters discuss the debate and the 2008 election.

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    Now, the fifth and last day of our Big Picture trip to Nevada, one of the early political caucus states. It culminated with the Democratic presidential candidate debate last night in Las Vegas.

    Once again to Judy Woodruff.


    Jim, much has been made of the fact that Nevada is one of the early presidential caucus states and that this debate would be the first to focus on western issues, but last night's event, here on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, only barely touched on those. Instead, it picked up where the last debate in Philadelphia left off.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Senator Clinton, I think, is a capable politician, and I think that she has run a terrific campaign. But what the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions. And that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I hear what Senator Obama is saying, and he talks a lot about stepping up and taking responsibility and taking strong positions. But when it came time to step up and decide whether or not he would support universal health care coverage, he chose not to do that. His plan would leave 15 million Americans out. That's about the population of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.


    I want Senator Edwards to weigh in, because you've spoken about the politics of parsing in your criticism of Senator Clinton. I want you to explain what that means.

    FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), Presidential Candidate: She says she will bring change to Washington, while she continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and is corrupt, corrupted against the interest of most Americans and corrupted…


    All right.


    … and corrupted for a very small, very powerful, very well-financed group.


    I don't mind taking hits on my record on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook.


    Nearly 10 minutes passed before any of the other candidates were let in.


    Senator Biden, I want you to weigh in. Senator Biden…

    SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: Oh, no, no, no.


    … I want you to weigh in.


    Don't do it, no!

    Don't make me speak!


    I want you to. Go ahead.

    What do you think? Senator Biden, here's a question. What do you think about this exchange among Democrats? Is that good for the Democrats, or is it bad?


    Hey, look, let's get to it, folks. The American people don't give a darn about any of this stuff that's going on up here. Look, they're sitting — no, seriously, think about it.

    They're sitting down at their tables at night, they put their kids to bed, and they're worrying about whether or not they're going to be able to pay for their mortgage, because, even if they didn't have one of those subprime mortgages, things are looking bad for them. They're worrying about whether they're going to keep their job, and they're worrying about whether their son in the National Guard is going to get killed in Iraq.


    The questioners eventually got to the issues. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd was asked whether teachers who excel should be paid more.

    SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), Connecticut: … if you define excelling by teachers who will go into poor rural or poor urban areas and make a difference, mentor children after school, put in extra time to make a difference, then I think that sort of merit pay has value. If you're judging excelling by determining whether or not that teacher has students who do better because they're in better neighborhoods or better schools, I'm totally opposed to that.


    And there was the issue of what to do about Pakistan. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said President Musharraf should be held accountable.

    GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: If we're on the side of democracy and human rights and we're on the side of Musharraf having elections, then U.S. interests are preserved, and the Pakistani people have a democracy.


    Let me just be precise, because I want to make sure we all — I heard you correctly. What you're saying, Governor, is that human rights, at times, are more important than American national security?


    Yes, because I believe we need to find ways to say to the world that, you know, it's not just about what Halliburton wants in Iraq. It's also about…

    … our values of freedom, equality. Our strength is not just military and economic.


    Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich tried to position himself apart from all others on the stage.

    REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), Ohio: People who voted for the war, voted to fund the war, now they have a different position. People who voted for the Patriot Act, now they have a different position. People voted for China trade. Now they have a different position. People who voted for Yucca Mountain. Now they have a different position. Just imagine what it will be like to have a president of the United States who's right the first time.


    Late in the debate, CNN's Campbell Brown turned the spotlight back to Clinton.


    Some have suggested that you, that your campaign, that your husband are exploiting gender as a political issue during this campaign. What's really going on here?


    Well, I'm not exploiting anything at all. I'm not playing, as some people say, the gender card here in Las Vegas. I'm just trying to play the winning card. And I understand very well that people are not attacking me because I'm a woman; they're attacking me because I'm ahead.


    All of the candidates did agree on one thing, that the Iraq war should be brought to an end, but differed on how long that should take.