Iraq war dominates first Democratic presidential debate - - Columbia, South Carolina

Iraq war dominates first Democratic presidential debate

Judi Gatson with NBC's Brian Williams Judi Gatson with NBC's Brian Williams

ORANGEBURG (WIS) - Thursday night, all eight Democratic presidential candidates squared off in the state's first presidential debate.

The debate was held at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, in the Martin Luther King Junior auditorium.

And the war in Iraq dominated the debate.

A ground rule limiting answers to 60 seconds made for a rapid-fire debate but prevented follow-up questions when any of the eight sidestepped.

That mean New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Delaware Senator Joe Biden avoided saying whether they agreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's assessment that the Iraq war is lost.

But Senator Clinton did vow to get the US out of Iraq, if President Bush fails to do so.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said he would get the country out of Iraq his first day in office.

Clinton was criticized by Senator John Edwards. He said she and anyone else who voted to authorize the war should "search their conscience."

Of the eight contenders taking the stage at South Carolina State University, four voted earlier Thursday to pass a Senate war funding bill that calls for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Illinois Senator Barack Obama says the government is "one signature away" from ending the war. He says if President Bush vetoes the measure, then Democrats should start rounding up
Republican support to override the veto.

Their debate might be over, but a number of the candidates plan to stay in South Carolina to campaign.

The big draw is Friday night's annual Jefferson-Jackson in Columbia and US Representative Jim Clyburn's fish fry nearby.

As the hopefuls continue their campaigning, analysts are weighing in on whether the candidates scored points with voters - and who won.

At least one analyst believes the first Democratic presidential debate was a skirmish that's unlikely to change the minds of many voters.

Quinnipiac University Polling Institute assistant director Peter Brown says that benefits Hillary Rodham Clinton, who appeared to hold her own. He believes the other candidates lost, simply because Clinton didn't make a mistake.

Brown says viewers of the MSNBC event likely learned more about New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Brown says Richardson "had ideas, talked definitively."

Republicans offered their take on the event from a distance. GOP chairman Robert Duncan said in a statement that all of the candidates "are out of touch with the values of the people of South Carolina and all of America."

The GOP will host its presidential debate Tuesday, May 15th. It will be held at the Koger Center. A list of all the candidates participating has not yet been made final.

Copyright 2007 Raycom Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.

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