Dueling Democrats

The five remaining Democrats vying for the presidential nomination fought out the issues on Marquette's campus Sunday in anticipation of Tuesday's primary election.

The candidates tried to distinguish themselves from the pack while answering questions on jobs, health care, the war in Iraq and two questions asked by Marquette students — one about higher education and one about diversity.

Sixty-two Marquette students watched the debate from the Alumni Memorial Union ballrooms, more than the original 30 whose names were drawn from a lottery, according to university officials. Additional tickets were made available Sunday night and given to students on a waiting list.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the contest's front-runner, faced fire for his voting record. Kerry was first asked about voting for the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free-trade deal with Mexico, and for the World Trade Organization, which established permanent trade relations with China. Many people now blame these agreements for the massive exportation of American jobs, and several candidates have said they will cancel the agreements if elected.

Kerry responded by saying side agreements were passed in both of the bills that set up NAFTA and WTO, protecting labor rights and the environment.

Kerry also defended his voting record by attacking President Bush for carrying out plans "the wrong way."

Kerry voted for the No Child Left Behind Act and the Patriot Act, and he voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

Kerry said No Child Left Behind has "worthy goals" that work for American schools' needs, including more accountability in public schools, highly certified teachers and an increase in standards.

He said Bush made the program punitive and did not fully fund it. He said he will "implement it properly" if elected.

Kerry criticized Attorney General John Ashcroft's implementation of the Patriot Act.

"The problem with the Patriot Act are two words: John Ashcroft," Kerry said in defense of his vote for the bill. "If we had an attorney general of the United States who respected the Constitution, there's no reason in the world that you can't do the things necessary. I will change the Patriot Act."

To defend his vote for the war, Kerry said Congress voted for "a process" which included building an international coalition, exhausting the United Nations weapons' inspection process and using war as a last resort. He said Bush did not deliver this process.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich came out strong against the war, and remained the only candidate stressing immediate removal of U.S. troops.

"It was wrong to go in," he said. "It's wrong to stay in."

Kucinich highlighted the fact that he is the only candidate of the two other Congressmen on the stage — Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — to have voted against both the war and the Patriot Act.

"I can speak as the next president of the United States to say that I intend to bring those troops home by going to the U.N. and giving up control of the oil, letting the U.N. handle that on an interim basis on behalf of the Iraqi people (and) letting the U.N. handle the contracts," Kucinich said.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was also vocal about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Dean began his campaign last summer as the candidate speaking loudest about his disagreement with Bush's handling of the situation.

Dean drew the distinction between himself, Kerry and Edwards by re-stating his opposition to the war, despite not being in a position to vote against it. Kerry and Edwards voted to authorize Bush with the use of force.

The Rev. Al Sharpton got the big laughs of the night, one of which came with his response to a question asking if Bush knowingly lied about intelligence leading up to the war and if so, why.

He said it was clear Bush lied, and talked about whether or not Bush knew he was lying.

"If he didn't know he was lying, and he did, that's even worse," Sharpton said. He joked about possible psychological problems that may cause one to lie unconsciously.

When asked why Bush might have lied, Sharpton said, "I think we should give him the rest of his retirement to figure it out and explain that."

Edwards took a shot at Kerry after the front-runner's answer to the question of whether he felt responsible for the costs and casualties of the war, having voted for it. Both times Kerry was asked the question he did not give a direct answer, and instead he reiterated his position that Bush did not conduct the war properly.

"That's the longest answer to a yes or no question," said Edwards, who was then asked the same question. He said he felt responsible, but echoed the "President Bush isn't doing this right" sentiment that all the candidates have adopted.

Edwards also took the opportunity to show he wasn't bowing out of the contest like others have done.

"And by the way, Sen. Kerry just said he will beat George Bush — not so fast John Kerry," Edwards said. "We're going to have an election here in Wisconsin this Tuesday, and we've got a whole group of primaries coming up. And I, for one, intend to fight with everything I've got for every one of those votes."

Dean also had a question-answering mishap that was, according to Elizabeth Conradson, the second-year Marquette Law student who asked the question, "kind of rude." Conradson asked a question about what the candidates would do to battle rising tuition costs at public colleges and universities to make them more accessible to lower- and middle-income students.

Dean was the first with a chance to respond.

"First of all, let me just very briefly respond to a question that I didn't get that I wanted to get, which was on health care," he said. Dean went on to talk about one theme in his campaign — his experiences and record as governor of Vermont.

He said he was able to provide 99 percent of people under the age of 18 with heath care during his time as governor. To answer the higher education question, Dean said he would provide students with loans and grants for school, dependent upon students' income, with payment plans that last only 10 years. Under the plan students would never have to pay more than 10 percent of their income in a given year, Dean said.

Conradson said she knew the candidates' platforms before asking the question — it was one of three she submitted. Students were nominated by "university administration, I think," and six were chosen to ask questions, she said. However, at the debate, TMJ4 officials said they only had time for two student questions.

Conradson said a male and female student were chosen from a hat. Her higher education question was chosen from her three, although she said she would have liked to ask a question about health care.

Only Dean and Kerry were asked to respond, and she said she would have liked to hear Edwards give his answer. However, Kucinich answered her question during a commercial break.

"He came up to me, introduced himself and thanked me for my question," she said. Kucinich then said he supported providing free education, but did not elaborate on how he would do that, she said.

Quinton Cotton, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, asked the candidates what they have specifically done to address the issue of diversity. Sharpton and Kerry were the only candidates asked to respond.

Both pointed to ethnically diverse staffs and their support of programs such as affirmative action. Cotton could not be reached for comments on candidates' answers.

Kerry and Dean left the AMU quickly after the debate. Only Kucinich, Edwards and Sharpton fielded reporters' questions on the first floor of the union after the debate.