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Schneider: DNC presidential hopefuls united on Iraq exit

Story Highlights

• invited presidential candidates to present their Iraq strategy
• All 7 Democratic candidates accepted; none of the Republican candidates did
• Obama was voted best able to lead us out of Iraq with 28 percent of MoveOn voters
• Sen. Hillary Clinton came in fifth with 11 percent of the vote
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "What's the best and fastest way to end the war in Iraq?'' That's the question put to presidential candidates by, a Web-based organization of 3.2 million grassroots progressive activists.

The organization invited 12 candidates to participate in a candidate town-hall meeting on Tuesday night. No Republican accepted. All seven Democrats did -- which tells you something about the growing influence of MoveOn in the Democratic Party and the powerful anti-Iraq war consensus among Democrats.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, told the audience he opposed the war from the start.

And Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said, "Congress should use its funding authority to force President Bush to end the war."

Having heard the candidates, members voted online on the question, "Which candidate do you believe would be best able to lead the country out of Iraq?''

The winner? Obama, but not by a big margin. He was rated best on Iraq by 28 percent of the roughly 43,000 MoveOn voters -- just ahead of Edwards, who got 25 percent of the vote.

What about Sen. Hillary Clinton? She came in fifth, with 11 percent. Rounding out the top five, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, had 17 percent and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-New Mexico, took 12 percent of the vote.

MoveOn's Washington director Tom Matzzie believes Clinton's stance on the war was an issue.

"I think there have been times in the past when we have been critical of Sen. Clinton's positions in Iraq," he said.

The New York senator gamely participated in the town hall and told the crowd, "Although some of your members may be a little surprised to hear me say this, I am grateful for your work."

And what did Obama say to MoveOn members?

"What my plan says is that on May 1 of this year, we need to begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq with the goal of removing all combat troops by March 31 of next year."

Strange, then, that the anti-war favorite was embraced by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who recently said, "I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for president, Sen. Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country."

Obama said McCain misquoted him. Obama clarified in an interview with CNN: "What I said was that Democrats aren't interested in playing chicken with the troops, and that we were absolutely committed to making sure that the troops have the equipment they need in order to come home safely."

MoveOn members who gathered at house parties to watch the candidates preferred Edwards and Richardson to Obama.

"The strength that Sen. Edwards and Gov. Richardson picked up at the house parties is probably because of their presentations," said Matzzie, "and their forcefulness about how they talked about Iraq."

Richardson told an audience, "I would pass a congressional resolution de-authorizing the war based on the War Powers Act."

So what impact will the MoveOn vote have? "The strategy for stopping the president in Iraq is to keep ratcheting up the pressure on the Republicans," said Matzzie.

"Democratic presidential candidates uniting on getting out of Iraq is a big step forward to doing that."

Usually a straw vote showcases the differences among candidates. Who's best? Who's worst? The MoveOn vote does something different. It showcases the Democrats' basic unity on the Iraq issue.



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