(CNN) – Maybe it’s the heat. The top Democratic candidates engaged in some of the sharpest exchanges yet of the presidential debate season Tuesday night in an outdoor forum in Chicago.
The AFL-CIO forum, televised on MSNBC, took place outdoors in steamy Soldier Field in front of thousands of union members.
Frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who faced strong criticism in recent days from Barack Obama and John Edwards, said in the first hour of the debate, “I’m just taking it all in. I’ve noticed in the last few days a lot of the other campaigns have been using my name a lot.” But she said the goal is not to get in fights with Democrats. I want the Democrats to win. And I want a united Democratic Party that will stand against the Republicans. And I will say that, for 15 years, I have stood up against the right-wing machine. And I've come out stronger. So if you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I'm your girl.”
But Clinton continued her attack of Obama on his foreign policy, including his comments he would take action against terror suspects inside Pakistan. She said, “Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals and it may well be that the strategy that we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence - but, remember, we've had some real difficult experiences with actionable intelligence - might lead to a certain action. But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that, and to destabilize the Musharraf regime which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with Al Qaeda and Taliban .And remember: Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have Al Qaeda-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons.” Clinton said, “you can think big, but remember you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don't need that right now”.
But Obama, who also drew fire from Senator Christopher Dodd over the Pakistan issue struck back, saying, “I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism.”
And drawing on a new line of attack he used against Clinton for not representing change, Obama said, “we're debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have the right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that are part of the debate that has to take place with respect to how we're going to shift our foreign policy.”
- CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk
(CNN) – For the second time in recent debates, the mention of world leaders has attracted attention to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
At Tuesday night’s AFL-CIO forum in Chicago, Obama was asked if he would scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement as president. The senator from Illinois said, “I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada, to try to amend NAFTA, because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now.”
The only problem is Canada has a prime minister, not a president.
And just in case anybody missed Obama’s slip, Senator Joe Biden noted, “Hey, look, the president's job is to create jobs, not to export jobs. And the idea that we are not willing to take the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico to the mat to make this agreement work is just a lack of presidential leadership. I would lead. I would do that. I would change it.”
- CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk
Graham is seen holding the sign in a photo obtained by TMZ.com Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may have taken heat recently for posing with a controversial campaign sign likening Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, but that didn't stop South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham from holding a similarly worded sign, in a photograph published by TMZ.com Tuesday.
Graham, a supporter of Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, is seen in a photograph dated July 27 holding a sign saying "Obama, Osama, and Chelsea's Moma say cut and run," next to a McCain campaign sign.
The sign is an obvious grouping of the two leading Democratic presidential candidates - Sens. Hillary Clinton, the mother of Chelsea Clinton, and Barack Obama - with Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
In a statement released Tuesday evening, Graham said, “I was handed the sign by a rally attendee as I was leaving. I should have been more careful and I apologize.”
The sign is nearly identical to a sign Romney posed next to two weeks ago - right down to the misspelling of "momma." The sign Romney was photographed with said "No to Obama, Osama, and Chelsea's Moma."
Romney, who was criticized by one member of a New Hampshire town-hall meeting - later identified as a Democratic blogger - for posing with the sign, said, “I have a lot of pictures taken with people. I don’t really spend all that much time looking at the signs and the T-shirts and the buttons. I don’t have anything to say about a sign somebody else was holding.”
- CNN's Alexander Mooney and Evan Glass
Gingrich spoke at the National Press Club Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has told CNN that if he decides to run for president, he will let the country know by early October at the latest.
Gingrich’s revelation came after wide-ranging remarks at the National Press Club on Tuesday. The speech was billed as an opportunity for Gingrich to formally announce his “Nine Nineties in Nine” challenge to the 2008 presidential field. Through a new organization called American Solutions for Winning the Future, Gingrich and journalist Marvin Kalb have asked all of the presidential candidates to pledge to participate in nine ninety-minute debates during the nine Sundays between Labor Day and Election day in 2008 if they win their party’s nomination. The proposed series of debates is inspired by the famous 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates that put Abraham Lincoln on the national political stage.
“The current political system is not working,” Gingrich said Tuesday, in advocating his proposal for a more substantive discussion prior to the 2008 presidential election.
Gingrich did not, however, limit himself to his debate proposal during his remarks. He touched on a wide range of topics, including economic competition from China and India, the war on terrorism, America’s educational system, the plight of African-American men and the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
He even weighed in on the political skill of new French President Nikolas Sarkozy.
Gingrich also commented on the field of 2008 presidential contenders against which he may soon compete. “I think third party candidates who purchase the election violate the entire spirit of the United States,” said Gingrich, alluding to the possible Independent presidential candidacy of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We are on the edge of a plutocracy and we need to understand how dangerous the current structure is,” he added.
“I think we actually have right now four very serious Republican candidates who could be very formidable next year – Mayor Giuliani, Governor Romney, Senator Thompson, and Governor Huckabee.” Gingrich added that he thought Huckabee will emerge as a “dark horse” candidate because of his “authenticity and sincerity and candor.”
On the Democratic side, Gingrich said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, is “a very formidable professional. She works very hard.” Echoing remarks from many other Republicans, Gingrich also said of Clinton that “the suggestion that she would not be capable of this is just wrong.”
- CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart
(CNN) – Asked whether he considers himself to be a traditional practicing Catholic, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani declined to discuss his faith during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa on Tuesday.
The Republican presidential candidate, a supporter of abortion rights, called it “a matter of individual conscience.”
“My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I’m a good or not-so-good Catholic, I prefer to leave it with the priests,” said Giuliani in response to a question from a member of the audience at his campaign forum. “I don’t believe there should be a religious test for public office. I think America’s beyond that.”
Questions on a candidate’s religion have become prominent in the Republican race. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney recently told a Des Moines radio host that he wasn’t “running to talk about Mormonism” after a long string of questions, and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback asked for an apology from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in response to a supporter’s e-mail questioning Brownback’s Catholic faith.
- CNN's Mark Norman
Giuliani predicted a Clinton-Obama ticket Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The presidential nominations for each party won’t be determined for at least another six months, but former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is already predicting which candidates will ultimately compose the Democratic ticket: Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - in that order.
Giuliani told the Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper, on Tuesday that he thinks Clinton will win the nomination and choose Obama as her running-mate because he "has had such a good showing and it's going to be very hard for her to deny him a place on the ticket."
Giuliani, who holds moderate stances on hot-button social issues such as abortion rights and gun control, also told the Telegraph he is the only GOP candidate who can beat Clinton in the general election.
"If you want to defeat Hillary Clinton, I would be the best person to do that because I can make this campaign nationwide," he said. "We can build it to have a chance of winning in New York and in New England and in California and Oregon – these are states where Republicans haven't even had a campaign for a long time."
Giuliani made the comments while campaigning in Iowa Tuesday.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential GOP presidential candidate, also predicted a Clinton-Obama ticket last week.
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney
Obama takes a break from the campaign trail in Iowa.
(CNN) – Are this week’s campaign trail skirmishes a precursor of the fireworks to come at Tuesday night’s AFL-CIO Democratic presidential forum?
Senator Barack Obama has shown no signs of letting up in new attacks on frontrunner Hillary Clinton during his most recent stops in Iowa. At an appearance Monday in Le Mars, Obama escalated his criticism of Clinton at Saturday’s Yearly Kos forum.
Referencing the candidates’ dispute over accepting money from lobbyists, Obama told a crowd in a barn, “I think that if you don't think lobbyists have too much influence in Washington, then I believe you've probably been in Washington too long”.
John Edwards also indirectly went after Clinton on the subject of lobbyists and special interests in a speech on trade at a Cedar Rapids union hall Monday.
He also criticized President Clinton — without directly naming him — for agreeing to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The former senator from North Carolina said, “Globalization is a major reason why income inequality is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression. It just shouldn't be that way. When I am president, we're going to tell the lobbyists and the big corporations they work for that their time is over, this game is over. We’re going to stop the rigging of this system. We're going to put an end to this.”
- CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk
Richardson outlined his universal health care plan Tuesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson revealed his plan to provide universal health care to all Americans in a speech on Tuesday, focusing on making health insurance affordable, improving the quality of care and giving people choices in their coverage.
"My plan provides choices - including the choice to keep your current coverage - and existing programs to expand coverage options," Richardson said in a statement. "We spend over 2.2 trillion dollars a year on health care in this country. We all know that we're not getting what we've paid for."
Richardson said he doesn't plan to establish a "one-size-fits-all system" to cover all Americans, but will instead create five different options to cover people based on age and economic status. To pay for it, he said, families and businesses will share the costs. There will also be a stronger focus on disease prevention, as well as a more concerted effort to control skyrocketing interest rates in order to help keep prices low.
Richardson criticized President Bush for threatening to veto legislation that would expand health insurance for poor children, calling his decision "predictably perverse."
"Despite Republican hand-wringing about the cost of universal care, it is clear that the cost of doing something—in lives and dollars—pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing," he said. "We cannot afford a healthcare system that doesn’t cover every American. The cost to our economy and the well-being of our people is just too high."
- CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich
Thompson’s non-campaign campaign Web site re-launched Tuesday with a host of new interactive features, a significant upgrade from the site’s sleek but stripped-down predecessor.
Along with “Fred Cast” Web video, Thompson’s “Fred File” blog, and a variety of volunteer tools, ImWithFred.com features a fundraising solicitation that acknowledges the campaign’s delayed entry into the presidential horserace.
“We are doing things a bit differently so we are off to a late start,” the site reads. “Help us hit the ground running by contributing today.”
Thompson’s exploratory committee raised $3.4 million in June, a figure that disappointed some political observers.
So, does the new-look Web site mean Thompson is ready to officially announce his candidacy?
“I think you should be reading into the Web site that we are trying to provide an interactive space for supporters to communicate with the senator, to learn more about what he’s up to and what he’s thinking,” Thompson spokesperson Linda Rozett told CNN.
- CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby
Johnson said Tuesday his doctor is allowing him to go back to South Dakota.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Still recovering from a brain hemorrhage last December, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, announced Monday that he's finally returning to South Dakota at the end of the month.
"The doctors have given me a ‘thumbs up’, and Barb and I are incredibly excited to head home. We have missed our friends and family and cannot wait to meet our two new grandchildren,” Johnson said in a statement. "I know my return has taken longer than some people have liked - count me among them."
Since being released from the hospital, Johnson has been recuperating at his northern Virginia home. In his statement, he said that he is "eternally grateful" to his doctors and nurses and thanked the people of South Dakota for their support.
In the days immediately following Johnson's hemorrhage, the balance of power in the Senate was thrown into question. If Johnson hadn't been able to complete his term, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, would likely have appointed someone from the GOP to take his place. Such a move would have taken control away from the Democrats by virtue of Vice President Cheney’s tie-breaking vote.
- CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich