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Inside Politics

Crowley: No blood spilled during first debate

Story Highlights

• Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls debated in South Carolina Thursday
• Top candidates took slight jabs at each other, but no major stumbles occurred
• Candidates agreed on broad policy goals, including a withdrawal from Iraq
• Former lawmaker from Alaska more than once shook up the stage
By Candy Crowley
CNN Washington Bureau
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ORANGEBURG, South Carolina (CNN) -- No blood was spilled in the first of umpteen presidential debates, and you had to listen hard for the low-impact jabs during Thursday night's showdown between Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards took a shot when he said "Sen. Clinton and anyone else who voted for this war has to search themselves and decide whether they believe they voted the right way."

Sen. Hillary Clinton's response: "I've said many times, if I knew then what I know now, I would not have voted that way" (Watch the candidate step carefully in their first debate Video)

Fresh off a vote to authorize more spending in Iraq but with a deadline to bring troops home, nearly all agreed the president should sign the bill, except for the most anti-war lawmaker in the group.

"Every time you vote to fund the war, you're reauthorizing the war all over again," argued Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

The questions ran the gamut from Iraq to abortion to healthcare, and the answers differed on the details but not the broad strokes. It was a largely cordial gathering.

"What Barack said was right ..." Clinton said once, referring to Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who is viewed as her chief rival for the nomination.

Much of the heat came from the lower tier -- Kucinich, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska -- trying to puncture the rarified atmosphere around the front-runners.

"I think the American people want candor. They don't want blow-dried candidates with perfection," said Richardson.

As interesting moments go, the hands-down winner was the little-known former lawmaker from Alaska who more than once shook up the stage, at one point calling the United States "the greatest violator of the non-proliferation treaty."

"Who the hell are we going to nuke?" Gravel asked. "Tell me Barack, Barack who do you want to nuke?"

Obama's response: "I'm not going to nuke anybody right now, Mike, I promise."

In the end there were no faux pas, no irretrievable errors -- the eight Democrats running for president cleared their first debate unscathed.


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Rep. Dennis Kucinich, left, and former Sen. Mike Gravel provided some of the debate's only sparks.

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