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Dems bash Bush in debate

Sharpton warns party not to take black voters for granted

Sharpton campaigns in Baltimore before the debate at Morgan State University.
Sharpton campaigns in Baltimore before the debate at Morgan State University.

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(CNN) -- The nine Democrats running for president appeared at a debate in Baltimore Tuesday and were highly critical of the Bush administration, finding fault with its plan for war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the U.S. fight against terrorism.

The 90-minute event was interrupted half a dozen times by protesters who all shouted the name of Lyndon LaRouche, an economist who has repeatedly campaigned for president.

Candidate Al Sharpton at one point chided a demonstrator for choosing to disrupt the first-ever debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. Fox News Channel co-sponsored the event, which was held at Baltimore's Morgan State University, a historically black college.

The six candidates who are also members of Congress were asked their positions on President Bush's request for $87 billion to fund the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most said they wanted more specifics before approving the money, and all indicated that the United States should not shoulder the burden alone.

"I am not going to vote for an open-ended $87 billion without the questions answered that I proposed earlier, and without an adequate effort with respect to the international community," said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

"I'm going to do what has to be done to make sure our troops get what they need," said Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, "but not without the president telling us how much this is going to cost over the long term, how long we're going to be there, and who's going to share the cost."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio received cheers when he said he would turn down the request, "because I believe the best way to protect our troops is to bring them home. The U.N. in and the U.S. out."

Carol Moseley-Braun, a former ambassador and former Illinois senator, said Washington is now in an awkward position because it ignored the countries that were opposed to war in the first place, but must now turn to them for help in financing the post-war effort. Kerry said the United States now has to work to "de-Americanize" the war.

It is all evidence that Bush's foreign policy has been a "miserable failure," said Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri. He said it is "incomprehensible" that half a year after the conflict in Iraq ended, the United States hasn't received any money from other countries or any troops "of appreciable numbers" to help keep the peace.

Kerry and fellow candidate Carol Moseley Braun, a former U.S. senator, talk before to the debate.
Kerry and fellow candidate Carol Moseley Braun, a former U.S. senator, talk before to the debate.

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida said Bush intentionally misled the American people when he linked the Sept. 11 attacks to Iraq.

And that, Kucinich said, helped drive the passage of the Patriot Act, which he said is an assault on civil liberties.

"We have to repeal the Patriot Act, which is the basis of fear that was drummed up in this country without any rational basis for protecting this country," he said. "We're being driven by fear and I have to say that it's time for us to challenge that fear."

Edwards said he supports a "dramatic revision" of the Patriot Act. He said the United States must remember that it is fighting to protect liberties, not take them away.

The Bush administration, Braun said, has "pandered to fear" by passing the act.

Just a few questions touched on the Middle East, where former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said the United States must "focus intensely" and not give the issue "a holiday."

Dean said the peace process in the Middle East requires that the United States have a renewable energy policy so that, when America purchases oil from Israel's neighbors, those countries don't use the profits to fund terrorism in Israel.

Lieberman said the United States gains no strength from being a negotiator in the region, and said he supports the creation of a Palestinian state.

Later in the debate, Sharpton said some in the Democratic Party are taking black voters for granted, and he compared it to taking a girl to a dance and watching her leave with someone else.

Addressing black voters, he said, "If we take you to the party, you're going home with us, or we're not taking you to the party."

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