Candidates converge on Carson City |

Candidates converge on Carson City

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, greets a crowd of about 300 at the Nevada Appeal on Wednesday afternoon. The Appeal served as the overflow viewing area for the Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum at the Carson City Community Center.

The eight Democrats who brought their presidential campaigns to Carson City Wednesday may differ on how to fix the problems facing America internationally and domestically. But they agreed the most important issues facing the nation are the Iraq war and health care.

They also agreed on what has made those problems so critical since 2000 – the policies of the Bush Administration.

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden put it bluntly in response to a question about Iraq: “I vastly underestimated the incompetence of this administration.”

Biden, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton of New York, former governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, former sen. John Edwards, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska congressman Mike Gravel all took their turns at the mic in the Carson Community Center on Wednesday, trying to build support for the Nevada caucuses, which will decide who receives delegates to the national party convention next year.

The only major candidate for the Democratic nomination not at the forum was Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Moderator George Stephanopoulos of ABC News drew a chorus of boos when he said Ne-vah-duh. He was corrected by Dodd, who teased that he didn’t think an Eastern states senator would have to correct Stephanopoulos’ pronunciation.

Appearing before a crowd of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, all eight said the U.S. needs to get the troops out of Iraq. But while Clinton and several others said immediate withdrawal was a recipe for chaos, Dodd asked “how much more chaos could there be in Baghdad than there is today?”

He said the situation doesn’t need a “surge” in troop strength, “We need a surge in diplomacy.”

Biden said the key is involving other major nations in the region including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as India, which has a huge Muslim population.

He said the Iraqi people must be given more local control under a limited national government so they have “control over a piece of their lives.”

Edwards said his vote for the Iraq war resolution was a mistake and that it’s time to stop the escalation of the war.

Clinton has a bill in the U.S. Senate that would do so, capping troops in Iraq at 130,000.

“Congress authorized this war,” Richardson said. “Now they should deauthorize the war.”

That sentiment was echoed by Vilsack who said if the U.S. should put more troops anywhere, they should go back to Afghanistan “and do the job we were supposed to.”

And Clinton said the U.S. can’t cut money for its troops but should cut money going to the Iraqi army “because they are not standing up and fighting.”

Kucinich – who, unlike the other members of Congress attending Wednesday’s event, voted against authorizing the Iraq war four years ago – said Congress should cut off the funds and force the Bush administration to end U.S. military presence in Iraq.

He said Iraq’s oil reserves are at the core of the administration’s reluctance to withdraw.

“We have to stop trying to steal the oil that belongs to Iraq,” he said.

“Our moral standing in the world is at risk here,” he said.

Gravel, too, called for a fast end to the war, saying “Congress must cut off the funds.”

The eight also agreed something must be done to fix the nation’s health-care system. Edwards rejected claims made by Vilsack and Richardson that health care can be fixed without taxes, saying those who make that claim “might have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.”

He said he would pay for universal health care by reversing the tax cuts the Republicans and Bush gave to the nation’s wealthiest people.

Richardson and Vilsack argued there are ways to make huge savings in health care by being more efficient and reducing administrative costs. Kucinich said his plan eliminates the for-profit insurers and health-care providers from the system, which he said would save the 31 percent they now take as profit and overhead.

The forum was the first such event of the 2008 presidential campaign season. The candidates are vying for support when Nevada holds its caucuses Jan. 19. Set just after the Iowa caucuses and before the New Hampshire primary, the caucuses will be one of the first tests of each candidate’s strength.

Those caucus votes will determine which candidates get Nevada’s national convention delegates.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750. Nevada Appeal reporter Jarid Shipley contributed to this report.