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First TV Debate 'Opening Salvo' for 9 Democrats

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    The national political spotlight focuses on Albuquerque tonight as nine Democratic presidential contenders take the stage in the first televised debate of the 2004 campaign.
    "This is the opening salvo of the presidential campaign," Gov. Bill Richardson, who helped organize the event, said Wednesday. "It's going to show which candidates have legs and which don't."
    Most of the candidates planned to arrive in New Mexico today and several scheduled public rallies in Albuquerque. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., arrived early, with Dean meeting with voters at a Santa Fe coffee house Wednesday evening and Lieberman attending a private fund-raiser in Las Cruces.
    Tonight's debate at Popejoy Hall on the University of New Mexico campus is expected to highlight issues of special interest to Hispanic voters.
    Fred Harris, a former New Mexico and national Democratic Party chairman, who is co-chairing Dean's campaign here, said he also expects candidates to take aim at Dean tonight because of Dean's surging campaign.
    "Some of these other candidates, whose campaigns are struggling, really do need to win the debate," said Harris, a UNM political science professor who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1976. "They need some spark."
    The event will be hosted by Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. It will air live from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on PBS television in English and Spanish. It will air again in Spanish on Univision on Saturday at 9 a.m.
    Tickets to the event have already been dispensed and no more are available. People with tickets are being advised to arrive at Popejoy as early as 3 p.m. and be seated by 5 p.m.
    Richardson, thought by many politics watchers to harbor presidential ambitions of his own, successfully lobbied the Democratic National Committee to bring the debate to New Mexico.
    He landed the first of six planned televised debates among the nine candidates so far seeking the 2004 Democratic nomination for president.
    Richardson also successfully sought enabling legislation and pushed the state Democratic Party to hold a Feb. 3 presidential nominating caucus. This will move up Democratic presidential primary voting from the regular June primary election, which put New Mexico at the back of the pack, with nominations often determined months before.
    Richardson contends that hosting the first debate and moving to an earlier nominating caucus— held the same day as Arizona's primary— gives New Mexico and the West more clout in the presidential selection process.
    But Gilbert St. Clair, a UNM political scientist, said he doubted New Mexico would ever displace the significance of the Iowa caucus on Jan. 19 or the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27 in presidential sweepstakes.
    "New Hampshire is somewhat of an indicator of how the candidates are likely to do in the Northeast, and there are a lot of people in the Northeast, and Iowa is an indicator of the agricultural Midwest," St. Clair said. "We're not really an indicator of anything."
    St. Clair acknowledged that New Mexico has voted for the winner in every presidential contest since statehood except two: former President Jimmy Carter in 1976 and President Bush in 2000.
    "We usually vote right, but I don't think we're really a bellwether state," St. Clair said.
    Even so, Terry McAuliffe, DNC chairman, and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, visited Phoenix, Las Vegas, Nev., and the Texas cities of San Antonio and El Paso this week to spur interest in the debate in communities with large Hispanic populations.
    "Hispanic voters are very critical to the next presidential election," DNC spokeswoman Debra DeShong said.
    Hispanic voters have long been considered a core constituency of the Democratic Party, but, led by President Bush, the Republican Party has worked hard to woo Hispanics and has made gains in recent elections in key states, including Florida.
    Immigration is expected to be among the topics of interest aimed at Hispanics during the debate, organizers said.
    So, it was no accident that Lieberman released a seven-point program on immigration on Wednesday. Lieberman said his program would provide temporary work visas to help undocumented immigrants become legal citizens, among other things.
    "It seemed appropriate to issue this statement now, on the eve of the debate sponsored by the Hispanic caucus," Lieberman told reporters Wednesday during a teleconference.
    Dean has generated the most national buzz this summer, landing on the covers of both Time and Newsweek for his successful Internet-based fund-raising, among other things.
    Dean also has been leading in recent polls in New Hampshire and Iowa, the states where voters first go to the polls in the presidential contest.
    John Pound, a Santa Fe lawyer backing Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for president, said all nine Democratic contenders would be under pressure to shine in the debate.
    "Up until now, the presidential campaign has been like spring training where you just had scrimmages, but the Albuquerque debate is the first real game," Pound said.
On the air
    The 6-7:30 p.m. debate will be broadcast live from UNM's Popejoy Hall on PBS affiliates, including KNME, Channel 5.

Howard Dean

    Former governor of Vermont
    AGE: 54
    POLITICAL/ PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Vermont House, 1982-86; Vermont lieutenant governor, 1986-91; Vermont governor, 1991-2003; physician.
    KEY POSITIONS: Universal health care; anti-war in Iraq.
John Edwards

    U.S. senator from North Carolina
    AGE: 50
    POLITICAL/ PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: U.S. senator 1999-present; lawyer.
    KEY POSITIONS: Corporate accountability; tax reform geared to help middle-class Americans; rural development.
Dick Gephardt

    U.S. House member from Missouri
    AGE: 63
    POLITICAL/ PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: St. Louis alderman, 1971-1976; U.S. House member, 1977-present; House minority leader, 1995-2002; lawyer.
    KEY POSITIONS: Wants to repeal all Bush tax cuts to pay for comprehensive health care; pro-labor trade reforms; increased public education spending.
Bob Graham

    U.S. senator from Florida
    AGE: 66
    POLITICAL/PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Florida House, 1966-69; Florida Senate, 1970-78; Florida governor, 1979-86; U.S. senator since 1987; lawyer.
    KEY POSITIONS: Economic program to create jobs while rebuilding U.S. bridges and highways; voted against Iraq war resolution.
John Kerry

    U.S. senator from Massachusetts
    AGE: 59
    POLITICAL/PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Co-founder Vietnam Veterans of America; spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War; Massachusetts lieutenant governor, 1982-84; U.S. senator, 1985-present; lawyer.
    KEY POSITIONS: High-tech economy; education reform; voted for Iraq war resolution, but has criticized Bush policies.
Dennis Kucinich

    U.S. House member from Ohio
    AGE: 56
    POLITICAL/PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Cleveland City Council, 1969-75, 1983-85; Cleveland mayor, 1977-79; Ohio Senate, 1994-96; U.S. House, 1997-present; chairman of Congressional Progressive Caucus; college professor.
    KEY POSITIONS: Anti-war in Iraq; universal health care; repeal Bush tax cuts; cancel North American Free Trade Agreement.
Joe Lieberman

    U.S. senator from Connecticut
    AGE: 61
    POLITICAL/ PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Connecticut Senate, 1971-1981; Connecticut attorney general, 1983-1989; U.S. senator, 1989-present; vice presidential candidate, 2000; lawyer.
    KEY POSITIONS: Tax cuts to spur growth in high-tech sector; increased emphasis on battling chronic diseases; developing alternative energy sources.
Carol Moseley Braun

    Former U.S. senator from Illinois
    AGE: 56
    POLITICAL/ PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Illinois House member, 1978-83; U.S. senator, 1993-1998; lawyer.
    KEY POSITIONS: Reducing federal budget deficit; increased spending on public education; women's rights.
Al Sharpton

    Civil rights activist from New York
    AGE: 54
    POLITICAL/ PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Candidate for U.S. Senate, 1992, 1994; candidate for mayor of New York, 1997; executive director, National Action Network.
    KEY POSITIONS: Human rights; voting rights; national health-care system; statehood for the District of Columbia.