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Candidates weigh in on their first 100 days as president

Story Highlights

• Contenders asked about their top priority for first 100 days as president
• Several mention ending war in Iraq; health care, Iran, North Korea also mentioned
• Other goals: improving education, restoring constitutional rights
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(CNN) -- The last question posed to the eight Democratic candidates at Sunday night's debate came from Ivy Merrill, a substitute elementary school teacher.

She asked, "Given that the circumstances in this country and in our world were essentially the same when you take office, what would be your top priority for your first 100 days?"

John Edwards answered first. As the time for the broadcast ran out, moderator Wolf Blitzer kept the other candidates' answers short so all would have a chance to answer.

Their responses:

John Edwards: "To travel the world -- re-establish America's moral authority in the world -- which I think is absolutely crucial. The other things become less important and subservient.

"We have huge issues here at home. We've talked about some of them tonight: energy, global warming, what we do about the issue of health care in America, the poor -- which we haven't talked about, unfortunately.

"But, the single greatest responsibility of the next president is to travel the world, speak to the world about what real American values are -- equality, diversity -- and to lead an effort by America to re-establish our alliances around the world, which is going to require time and focus.

"And then, third, to lead in taking action that demonstrates that America is strong but that America is also moral and just. And we're going to help other people in the world and we're going to demonstrate our commitment to humanity.

"All those things are crucial to re-establishing our moral authority."

Hillary Clinton: "Well, if President Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, to bring our troops home. That would be the very first thing that I would do."

Barack Obama: "That would be the number one priority, assuming nothing has changed. The second priority is getting moving on health care because that's something that we can get done, I think, very quickly."

Bill Richardson: "Nobody's talked about your [Ivy Merrill's] profession, education.

"I would upgrade our schools. I would have preschool for every American, full-day kindergarten. I would pay our teachers what they deserve. I'd have a minimum wage for our teachers, $40,000. I did that in New Mexico. We went from 49th to 29th.

"I would bring science and math academies to get America more competitive. I would emphasize the arts. I would emphasize civics. Again, science and math. I would have universal education available for every American."

Joseph Biden: "I would end the war in Iraq and immediately move to defuse the possible war in Iran and immediately defuse what's going on on the Korean Peninsula.

"They're the three most important things that the next president is going to have to deal with.

"And by the way, when power is handed from this president to the next, the next president is going to be left with no margin for error. They'd better be smarter than their advisers."

Dennis Kucinich: "Keep in mind, we could stop that war in Iraq now by not providing any funding.

"But what I intend to do is to be a president who helps to reshape the world for peace -- to work with all the leaders of the world in getting rid of all nuclear weapons, rejecting policies that create war as an instrument of diplomacy, making sure that we cause the nations of the world to come together for fair trade, cancel NAFTA, cancel the WTO, go back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights and human rights, create a not-for-profit health care system and send the bill to Congress."

Mike Gravel: "Top priority is to turn to these people and say they are part of the leadership right now in the Congress. They could end the war if they want to. All they've got to do is show the leadership."

Chris Dodd: "Well, I'd try to restore the constitutional rights in our country. This administration has done great damage to them. I would do that on the first day. I wouldn't wait 100 days on those issues."


Eight Democratic presidential contenders field questions in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Sunday night.



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