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Editor's note: This is part three of the transcript for the Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute on January 21, 2008. Click here to connect to part one or part two.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards answered questions from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Joe Johns and Suzanne Malveaux in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Monday night.


Hillary Clinton, left, Barack Obama, center, and John Edwards answer questions on Monday night.

BLITZER: Welcome back to the Democratic presidential debate. We're here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with three Democratic presidential candidates.

BLITZER: I also want to remind all of our viewers out there in the United States and around the world they can always go to They can continue to watch what's going on here, get a lot more information on the positions, the substantive positions of all of these candidates. If they need more information -- you need more information, that's the place to go:

I want to begin the second part of this debate with a question for Senator Obama, and I want to refer to Congressman Charlie Rangel, one of the most powerful members, one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives, and specifically on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day so important to all of us here in the United States.

He's a supporter of Hillary Clinton and he said yesterday, and I'm quoting now, that he likes you, Senator Obama. He's very proud of your accomplishments. But he went on to say that "Black voters should not do what makes us feel good, but what's good for our great nation."

And I wonder if you want to respond to that notion that it may make a lot of African-Americans feel good to vote for you, but it might not necessarily be the best thing for the United States.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, Charlie's absolutely right that African-Americans should vote for what's best for them, their children, and this country, and the same way that I think Hillary...


... you know, Hillary feels that women should vote for what's best for them, their children, and their country.

EDWARDS: Would you mind saying that...

OBAMA: And the same way that John...

EDWARDS: Say that a little more often.

OBAMA: Absolutely. Same way that John, I think, he wants white males to vote for...


EDWARDS: And women and African-Americans.

OBAMA: So I think Charlie's right in principle. Now, obviously, he and I differ in terms of what would be best for the nation. I wouldn't be running if I didn't think that I could bring the country together most effectively, that I can overcome the special interests in Washington most effectively, that I can inspire the American people to get involved in their government most effectively.

So his principle is right. He just has miscalculated in his equation. But I get along great with Charlie, so I'm sure that -- as president, I look forward to working with him as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to get things done for families of America.


BLITZER: I'll move on to the next question from Suzanne unless either of you want to make a comment.


MALVEAUX: It's kind of related to Senator Edwards. I've spoken with a lot of African American voters in South Carolina this week, and a lot of them say that electing a black president, that this would change the way whites see African Americans and the way African Americans see themselves.

Do you think that this is a valid consideration for voters in determining who's president?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I don't think it's for me to tell anybody, and particularly not African Americans, what they should consider when they're voting. I think they ought to be able to consider anything that they think is fair and reasonable and important to them.

What I would say, though, is on the issue, since we are here on Dr. King's day, on the issues of equality, ending poverty in America, the things that he devoted so much of his life to, no one has been -- and with all respect to the two other candidates, no one has been more aggressive on these issues than I have.

I mean, ending poverty is the cause, the single most important cause in my life. I'm not suggesting for a minute the two of them haven't spoken about it, because they obviously have. But I have made it central to what I'm doing, central to my campaign and I have been trying to drive it in this campaign and welcome everything they have to say.

I have a comprehensive set of ideas about how we end poverty in this country. I think it is a huge moral issue facing the United States of America, and it is an enormous issue facing the African American community.

If you're black, you're much more likely to be poor, you're much less likely to have health care coverage. That community is hurt worse by poverty than any community in America. And it's our responsibility, not just for the African American community, but for America, as a nation, to take on this moral challenge, to try as best we can to walk in the shadow of Dr. King and try to make certain that we take this cause on, and I intend to do it.

It will be central to the work that I do as president of the United States, ending poverty in America.

BLITZER: Let's let Senator Clinton respond, and then Senator Obama.

CLINTON: Well, I respect John's commitment to ending poverty. That's why, 35 years ago, when I graduated from law school, I didn't go to work for a law firm. I went to work for Marian Wright Edelman at the Children's Defense Fund, because ending poverty -- particularly ending poverty for children, has been the central core cause of everything that I've been doing for 35 years.

I care deeply about what for me is a mission and it does infuse everything that I do and why I'm in public office and why before I was in public service, chairing the Legal Services Corporation so that people got free legal aid when they would otherwise be put out of the courthouse, standing up time and time again for health care and education for abused and neglected kids and kids in the foster care system.

But I think that what we want to do is have a little reality check here, because how is it best to end poverty? We know we've got to maintain programs that are there to help people in need, but look at what's happened over the space of the last seven years. The average African American family has lost $2,600 in income.

Compare that to the prior eight years, when we had a president who took on the fights of the '90s and stood up against the Republicans, often at great cost. And the typical African American family went up $7,600 during the 1990s.

We know we've got to attack poverty by making sure the economy works for everybody. We have to lift up the idea of good jobs with good benefits, and I think that we know what we need to do. And if we have a president who is willing from day one to make it a mission to create shared prosperity again, that's going to be good for every American. And that's what I'm going to offer as president. That's what I've been talking about, that's what I've been working for and that's what I intend to do. And I think we can get results for every American.

BLITZER: Senator?

OBAMA: Well, I think John has run a terrific campaign and has focused on poverty during the campaign.

But, John, I have to say, first of all, I have put forward a comprehensive poverty plan that talks about early childhood education, health care for children, dealing with ex-offenders.

And I'll be, you know, happy to share it with you. I know that you don't have time to read all my stuff, just as I don't have time to read yours.

But understand this. I haven't just been talking about...

EDWARDS: Maybe I can read it when I can't go to sleep at night.

OBAMA: Well, there you go.


That's when I usually read my stuff, actually. But I think it's important.

It's not just talking about it during a campaign. You know, as I said, I started my career after college working in low-income neighborhoods, working in public housing projects, talking to children when you grow up?" They say, "I want to be a doctor," or, "I want to be a lawyer," had the same aspirations as every other child, but they were three, four grade levels behind.

And nobody had told them that the likelihood of them accomplishing their goals were each year diminished because we weren't putting the money in to make sure that they could actually achieve it.

And that's what I did as a civil rights attorney. That's what I did as a state legislator, providing health care for people who didn't have it, making sure that we are providing tax relief to those who need it, as opposed to those who don't.

So I want to make clear, John, that I think a lifetime commitment is how people are going to have to measure these issues.

One last point I want to make, because I think the media, you know, has really been focused a lot on race as we move down to South Carolina. And I have to say that, as I travel around South Carolina, I am absolutely convinced that white, black, Latino, Asian, people want to move beyond our divisions, and they want to join together...


... in order to create a movement for change in this country.

And, I mean, I'm not entirely faulting the media because, look, race is a factor in our society. There's no doubt that in a race where you've got an African-American, and a woman, and John...


... there's no doubt that that has piqued interest, but I guess what I'm saying is I don't want to sell the American people short.

They are desperate to move beyond the same, old arguments that we've been having and start actually getting something done in this country. And that's what the Democratic Party has been about.


The Republicans may have a different attitude, because they haven't been appearing before forums that are diverse. And the policies, frankly, that they've promoted -- and here I think all three of us agree -- the policies that they have promoted have not been good at providing ladders for upward mobility and opportunity for all people.

That is a fight that all of us will fight. But I don't want us to get drawn into this notion that somehow this is going to be a race that splits along racial lines.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, before I ever was involved in politics at all, I was involved with Urban Ministries in North Carolina, which is a group that takes care of the poorest of the poor, the homeless, the people who are struggling.

There are a lot of Americans -- I've bet some people here won't know this -- but I've been in a fight with Bill O'Reilly -- that's a fight I'd love to be in, by the way -- I've been in a fight with Bill O'Reilly about whether we, in fact, have 200,000 men and women who wore our uniform who are homeless every single night.

They are. There's absolutely no question about that. And anybody in this audience who's paying attention knows it.

But what I worry about is all the work that I've done at the poverty center that I started at the university, the work I did before I got involved in politics, all the substantive ideas, what I worry about is this starts to sound like a statistic.

You know, we talk about 37 million Americans who live in poverty -- that's more than the population of California -- in the richest nation on the planet.

I've been to hundreds of places around this country who take care of the poorest of the poor, extraordinary, wonderful places. But I'll never forget, just a year or so ago, I was with a woman in Kansas City who told me the story -- worked full-time, worked full-time. She had several children.

Every night in the winter, she could not pay both her heating bill and her rent. She had to choose. Single mom, working full-time, she had to put her kids in all of their winter clothing, in their coats, bundle them up in the bed together, put as many blankets on top of them as she could.

And she'd get them out of bed in the morning and send them off to school. And the last thing she would say to them? "Please, for goodness's sakes, don't tell anybody at school what's happening here, because they'll come and take you away from me."

EDWARDS: No mother in America should have to live like that. We are a better country than that.


BLITZER: Joe Johns.

JOHNS: Senator Obama, appreciating what you said about the media's preoccupation with race, there is...

OBAMA: Here we go.

JOHNS: Right. The Nobel Prize-winning African-American author, Toni Morrison, famously observed about Bill Clinton, "This is our first black president, blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime."

Do you think Bill Clinton was our first black president?


OBAMA: Well, I think Bill Clinton did have an enormous affinity with the African-American community, and still does. And I think that's well earned.

Like John, one of the things that I'm always inspired by -- no, I'm -- this I'm serious about. I'm always inspired by young men and women who grew up in the South when segregation was still taking place, when, you know, the transformations that are still incomplete but at least had begun had not yet begun. And to see that transformations in their own lives I think that is powerful, and it is hopeful, because what it indicates is that people can change.

And each successive generation can, you know, create a different vision of how, you know, we have to treat each other. And I think Bill Clinton embodies that. I think he deserves credit for that.

Now, I haven't...


OBAMA: I have to say that, you know, I would have to, you know, investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities.


OBAMA: You know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother. But...


BLITZER: Let's let Senator Clinton weigh in on that.

CLINTON: Well, I'm sure that can be arranged.


CLINTON: You know, I want to echo what Barack has said and what each of us has said repeatedly over the last days. You know, this campaign is obviously an incredible opportunity for so many people to become involved, to be part of making history.

You have got a son of the South. You've got an African-American. You have a woman. What better way to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King than to look at this stage right here tonight?


CLINTON: And, you know, I'm reminded of one of my heroes, Frederick Douglas, who had on the masthead of his newspaper in upstate New York, "The North Star," that right has no sex and truth has no color. And that is really the profound message of Dr. King.

You know, the content of our character, who we are as people. And I think that my pride in being part of this campaign -- now, look, it's a hard-fought campaign.

We have differences, but it would be unbecoming of any of us to not share those differences and to make the points we're making because we are competing for the most important job in the world at a time when our country has been disgraced abroad, when we have denied and ignored the problems that are afflicting people in South Carolina and across America, when we know we will inherit a huge amount of damage from President Bush upon taking office on January 20th, 2009, whoever the next president is.

So we are passionate about our cause, our candidacy, what we believe, what we want to do for America. And it is a great privilege for me to be part of this. And I think it's important that we stay focused on the future, what we are going to do together to make our country once again what it should be, to deal with this myriad of problems that await, because we can bring our country together and we can set big goals again.

We can start acting like Americans and solve those problems together, and that's what I want to do.


OBAMA: And I have to say, Wolf, that I especially appreciate the fact that Hillary and John were giving me a tough time, because that shows I'm doing pretty good.


I would be upset if there was too much civility in this debate, because it is competitive.

One last point I want to make about this, though, and John alluded to it on the poverty issue.

The one thing we -- when I say we should not focus on my race or Hillary's gender in terms of choosing a candidate, that is not to say that we should be ignoring the very real problems that still exist in terms of race in America.


So for example, if we know that in our criminal justice system, African-Americans and whites, for the same crime, receive -- are arrested at very different rates, are convicted at very different rates, receive very different sentences.


That is something that we have to talk about. But that's a substantive issue and it has to do with how do we pursue racial justice.

If I am president, I will have a civil rights division that is working with local law enforcement so that they are enforcing laws fairly and justly. But I would expect...


... a white president or a woman president should want to do the same thing, because I believe that the pursuit of racial equality, of the perfection of this union, is not just a particular special interest issue of the African-American community. That is how all of us are going to move forward.

And to the extent that we don't deal with those issues, those longstanding, deep seeded issues, we will continue to be hampered. We will be competing with the world with one hand tied behind our backs.

CLINTON: And, you know, Wolf, the...


... the challenge is for us to address all of these issues. We obviously still have problems of gender equality. You know, equal pay is not yet equal.


A woman makes $0.77 on a dollar and women of color make $0.67. So there is a big agenda waiting for the Democratic Party. And we feel so passionately about this because we not only are running for office, but we each, in our own way, have lived it.

We have seen it. We have understood the pain and the injustice that has come because of race, because of gender. And it's imperative that, as we move forward with our campaign, we make it very clear that each of us will address these issues.

You don't hear the Republicans talking about any of this. You don't hear them talking about the disgrace of a criminal justice system that incarcerates so many more African-Americans proportionately than whites. You don't hear any kind of effort to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities, something that I'm committed to doing in order to...


... make it clear that these are important institutions that have led the way for so many great leaders to be where they are today.

So we have a specific set of policies and priorities that are really part of who we are, as well as part of what the Democratic Party stands for.

BLITZER: I'm going to let the son of the south wrap this subject up and then we'll move on to Suzanne.

EDWARDS: Well, I appreciate what both of them said about the transformative effect of having lived with this. I mean, I grew up, I was born here in South Carolina, grew up in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina, and, in my early years, I lived in the segregated south.

I mean, I saw up close the impact it had on people's lives and I saw up close the blood, sweat and tears and lives of those, including some people who are in this audience tonight, what they went through to bring about this change.

And there is a great deal -- Hillary says the Republicans don't talk about it. There's some things we don't talk about, either, and if you look at what's...


... if you look at what's happening, my father, who, I mentioned earlier, is sitting in the audience, he raised me to believe that the men and women who worked in the mill with him were worth every bit as much as the man that owned that mill.


And if we really believe that every American is of equal value, no matter who their family is, where the live or what the color of their skin -- when are we going to start living together? Because you look at what's happening -- I announced my campaign from the ninth ward of New Orleans.

I think a lot of America was shocked to see those pictures coming out of the ninth ward. And you can't pick on New Orleans. The same thing's true in many communities all over this country.

I mean, we have got to -- both in housing policy and economic policy and every other way -- create the kind of opportunity for people to be able to move. It shouldn't just be that rich folks are able to, if they don't like their neighborhood or don't like their school or are worried about crime in their neighborhood, they're the only ones that can go somewhere else.

Everybody in America ought to have that chance, at the same time that we're investing in a serious way to improving all of our neighborhoods.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux?


MALVEAUX: To Senator Clinton. In New Hampshire, you said you found your own voice, but increasingly there are people who believe that it's your husband's voice that has become too loud.

MALVEAUX: Congressman Clyburn earlier said today, "I think he can afford to tone it down." Is there a risk that he is overshadowing your message and your voice?

CLINTON: Well, I think that he is very much advocating on my behalf, and I appreciate that. He is a tremendous asset. And he feels very strongly about this country and what's at stake and what out future should be.

I believe that this campaign is not about our spouses. It is about us. It is about each of us individually. Michelle and Elizabeth are strong and staunch advocates for their husbands, and I respect that.

But, at the end of the day, voters are going to have to choose among us, and I think it's fair to say that really the most important decision is who would be the best president on day one, to deal with all the problems that we know are waiting for our next president? And the subsidiary question is, who can best withstand the Republicans and all that we know is coming from them in order to win in November 2008?

I believe strongly that I can make the best case for that. Obviously, my colleagues believe just as strongly.

So I think that we need to keep our focus on what's at stake in the election, what the future holds, what each of us will bring to this campaign and the presidency, because ultimately it's really not about any of us. It's about the people of South Carolina. It's about the people of America.

And my voice is their voice. What I want to do is take not only my 35 years of experience into the White House, but I want to take all those voices of these extraordinary Americans who come up to me and tell me their stories and give me hope and inspiration that I can do something for them. Because that's what it's about for me.

Politics is not a game. It is the most serious of business. We have seen that over the last seven years. We have seen what a difference it makes when we have a president who is indifferent to and insensitive about the real-life struggles of Americans, and I want to be the champion that once again gives Americans the feeling that they have a president who cares about them and can produce results for them. And that's what I intend to do.

BLITZER: I'm going to let both of the other senators respond. Then we'll take a quick break.

Go ahead, Senator Obama.

OBAMA: Well, Hillary's right. All of us have extraordinarily smart and effective advocates in our spouses.

And, as I've said before, I do not at all begrudge -- I would expect that Bill Clinton would campaign vigorously on your behalf. Obviously, he's the ex-president, so that means that the gets a lot of outsized attention and there's nothing long with that. That's, as you said, an asset to the campaign.

I have been troubled, and we already had this discussion, so I don't want to go over it again, the degree to which my record is not accurately portrayed. But that's standard practice in some of our political battles.

What I do want to focus on, though, is how important it is, when you talked about taking on the Republicans, how important it is I think to redraw the political map in this country. And the reason I say that is that we have gone through the 2000 election, the 2004 election, both of which were disappointing elections.

But the truth is that we as Democrats have not had a working majority in a very long time. And what I mean by that is a working majority that could push through the kinds of bold initiatives that all of us have proposed. And one of the reasons that I am running for president is because I believe that I can inspire new people to get involved in the process, that I can reach out to independents and, yes, some Republicans who have also lost trust in their government and want to see something new.

When you look at Bush and Cheney and their record, the one good thing they've done for us is they have given their party a very bad name.


That gives us a unique opportunity in this election, and what we can't do, I think, is just to take the playing field as a given. We want to expand the scope of the electorate so that we can start getting a 60 percent majority, more folks in the House, more folks in the Senate, and I think that's something I can do.

OBAMA: And that's why we've seen record turnout in every election so far. I'm not taking all the credit for it. I think people are voting against George Bush. But I also think that we've inspired people who had not previously voted before, and that's what the Democratic Party has to do.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards?

EDWARDS: I would just add on it's just really important for primary voters in South Carolina and all the other subsequent primaries to understand they're not just voting in a primary.

They're voting to establish what we're going to be doing next November and who our candidate will be next November. And it's becoming increasingly likely, I think, that John McCain is going to be the Republican candidate.

Now, here's what we have to be thinking about. Who will be tough enough and strong enough? And who can compete against John McCain in every place in America?

You know, I believe that I won't just be here campaigning in the South Carolina primary. When I'm the Democratic nominee, I'll be back in South Carolina campaigning for the general election.

And we can't concede places like South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, all these places around America where we know, everyone knows, that we always do well -- all three of us have been through this -- we always do well in Chicago, or New York, or Los Angeles, Seattle.

We do well in the big urban areas. The question is: Are we competitive in the rural areas, in the tougher places for Democrats to compete?

And the only thing I would say -- and I think it has nothing to do with race and gender. Let me be really clear about that. It's amazing now that being the white male...

OBAMA: You're feeling all defensive about it, John. It's all right, man.

EDWARDS: ... is different.

What I was going to say, though, is being able to go everywhere in America and campaign and to compete -- and I grew up in the rural south, in small towns all across the rural south, and I think I can go everywhere and compete head-to-head with John McCain.

And, actually, the last time I saw one of your polls that had all three of us against John McCain, I was the one that beat John McCain everywhere in America.


And I think we need to be able to have a candidate when people are voting -- it's not the only consideration. Lord knows, if you don't agree with what we stand for, and you don't believe in us, our character and our ability to lead this country, you should not vote for us, no matter what it means for the general election.

But if you believe in our passion, our strength, our toughness, our independence from these special interests -- I've never taken money from a Washington lobbyist or a special interest PAC, which is different than these two guys, over our whole career.

But what I would say that I think what that means is I can go anywhere in America and compete against John McCain and win.

BLITZER: We have to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to talk about, much more of this presidential debate here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when we come back.


OBAMA: ... where in northern Nevada, in places like Elko, I won by 30 points. And we were attracting Independents and some Republicans. You know, this is the same way that I was able to win the election in Illinois, going to downstate Illinois. So, I think it's important for us not to assume that we can't reach out to people of all -- of all persuasions, and I want to just take one last example on this, and that is on the issue of faith.

OBAMA: You know, I am a proud Christian. And the...


I think there have been times -- there have been times where our Democratic Party did not reach out as aggressively as we could to evangelicals, for example, because the assumption was, well, they don't agree with us on choice, or they don't agree with us on gay rights, and so we just shouldn't show up. And when you don't show up, if you're not going to church, then you're not talking to church folk. And that means that people have a very right-wing perspective in terms of what faith means and of defining our faith.

BLITZER: All right.

OBAMA: And as somebody who believes deeply in the precepts of Jesus Christ, particularly treating the least of these in a way that he would, that it is important for us to not concede that ground. Because I think we can go after those folks and get them.


BLITZER: All right. Suzanne has a question on faith to all of you.

CLINTON: But Wolf...

BLITZER: Hold...

CLINTON: ... let me just get in here, because there are a lot of polls showing that I'm beating them higher than anybody else. I don't think that has -- I don't think, frankly, that has much to recommend this far from an election.

If John is right and Senator McCain is the Republican nominee, we know that once again we will have a general election about national security. That is what will happen.

I believe of any one of us, I am better positioned and better able to take on John McCain or any Republican when it comes to issues about protecting and defending our country and promoting our interest in the world. And if it is indeed the classic Republican campaign, I've been there. I've done that.

They've been after me for 16 years, and much to their dismay I am still here. And I intend to be still here when that election comes around and we win in November 2008.


EDWARDS: I just want to add that I think it's about -- I don't think it's about polls either, Hillary, by the way. But I do think it is about fundamental differences between us and them. And this is a difference that you and I have.

You know, I think that John McCain has made central to his time in public life, in his campaign, campaign finance reform and cleaning up the money in politics. And I think it's dangerous for us to send somebody against him who presents a contrast to what he represents. And I'm proud of the fact that I've never taken money from a Washington lobbyist or a special interest PAC.

EDWARDS: And I have a question -- I have a question that I'm interested in hearing you respond to. You've talked a lot about day one. I've committed -- I don't know what Barack has said about this -- but I've committed not to have any corporate lobbyists working in my White House on the first day that I'm president.

Will you make the same commitment?

CLINTON: Well, you know, John, I will make the commitment to have people in the White House who are honest and trustworthy and put the interests of the United States first. But I think...

EDWARDS: Is that a no?

CLINTON: You know what? I don't know.


I don't know, because I'm not in favor of corporate lobbyists, but you keep drawing these artificial distinctions. You take money from people who employ lobbyists, who are married to lobbyists, who are the children of lobbyists.

And, you know, at some point this gets really hard to take, because if you are someone like I am, who has withstood the full force of corporate lobbyists, starting with the health insurance companies, and the drug companies, and the oil companies, and everybody that I've taken on for all of these years, you know, I think I'm independent and tough enough to be able to deal with anybody. And that's what I intend to do.


EDWARDS: Those people, though -- here's the problem, Hillary. Everybody is listening. They can make their own judgment about this. They don't have to depend on us. When somebody gives you millions and millions of dollars, I think they expect something. I don't think they're doing it for nothing.

CLINTON: Well, John, trial lawyers have given you millions and millions of dollars. So...

EDWARDS: And what they expect from me is they expect me to stand up for democracy, for the right to jury trial, for the right for little people to be heard in the courtroom. And that is exactly what I stand up for.

That is not the same thing. That is not the same thing as corporate lobbyists who are in there every single day lobbying against the interests of middle-class Americans. And I think we need a president who can stand up.

We have a difference about this. You're entitled to your view. But we have a real difference about it.

CLINTON: No, we don't have a real difference. Where we stand is -- where I stand is for public financing. I'm going to do everything I can to get public financing, to get the money out of American politics.

But, you know, Barack has a lot of lobbyists who are leading his campaign here in South Carolina. John has had lobbyists who've been working hard for him all of these years.

The point is that you've got to say no. You've got to say no.

OBAMA: Let me interject.

CLINTON: And, yes, I think that we will say no consistently in order to have a positive agenda that is actually going to make a difference. Do you have to stand up to the lobbyists? Yes. But the lobbyists represent the interests that are paying the lobbyists. So to go and focus on the lobbyists, you know, kind of misses the point.

OBAMA: Let me just interject on this.

Hillary, you're right. Nobody's hands are perfectly clean in politics. That is true. I mean, there a distinction, though, between not taking PAC and federal lobbyist money and having that as a major way of driving your campaign and having some ancillary involvement.

But, you know, I don't want to go down that route. What I want to really focus on is this issue of national security, because I think you've repeated this a number of times. You are the person best prepared on national security issues on day one, and so if you're running against John McCain, that you can go toe-to-toe.

I fundamentally disagree with that. And I want to tell you why, because I believe that the way we are going to take on somebody like a John McCain on national security is not that we're sort of -- we've been sort of like John McCain, but not completely, you know, we voted for the war, but we had reservations.

I think it's going to be somebody who can serve a strong contrast and say, "We've got to overcome the politics of fear in this country." As commander-in-chief...


As commander-in-chief, all of us would have a responsibility to keep the American people safe. That's our first responsibility. And I would not hesitate to strike against anybody who would do Americans or American interests' harm.

But what I do believe...

BLITZER: All right.

OBAMA: Wait, Wolf, let me finish. I was listening to these folks quite some time.

What I do believe is that we have to describe a new foreign policy that says, for example, I will meet not just with our friends, but with our enemies, because I remember what John F. Kennedy said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate.

Having that kind of posture is the way I think we effectively debate the Republicans on this issue. Because if we just play into the same fear-mongering that they have been engaged in since 9/11, then we are playing on their battlefield, but, more importantly, we are not doing what's right in order to rebuild our alliances, repair our relationships around the world, and actually make us more safe in the long term.

EDWARDS: And it requires that -- wait, wait. Both of them talked about it. You've got to let me say a word.

BLITZER: All right, 30 seconds, please.

EDWARDS: What it requires is having something beyond a short- term foreign policy of convenience. I mean, Bush has done extraordinary damage to us.

EDWARDS: But if we have a visionary foreign policy, where we re- establish America as a moral leader in the world, where we do the things that we need to do to combat global poverty, to deal with the spread of HIV/AIDS, the spread of disease at large, economic development, what it does is it takes an entire generation of young people who are sitting on the fence as I speak and on one side is Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, Islamic jihad, and on the other side is the United States of America, which way do they go?

That depends entirely on us. If they continue to see this foreign policy of belligerence, selfishness, only interested in the expansion of American power, we will drive them in the other direction.

If, on the other hand, they see America as the light, the source of hope and opportunity, it will pull them to us like a magnet. We need to be that light again.


BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

We are completely out of time, but we have time for one final question that I'd like to ask all three of you to respond and, if possible, within one minute or less, and it's an important question on this important day.

And, Senator Edwards, let me start with you. If Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today, unfortunately, he's not, but if he were alive today, why do you think he would or why should he endorse you?

EDWARDS: For two reasons. One is that -- we've talked about this a great deal already -- I met with Martin III in Atlanta on Saturday and he was very kind about me pushing the single biggest issue -- two biggest issues that Dr. King stood for, which are the issues of equality and ending poverty in America.

I've been on at least part of his poor people's campaign. I was in Marks, Mississippi, among other places. I mean, I have been pushing this issue as aggressively and as loudly as I possibly can and I will do it as long as I'm alive, because it is central to what I believe.

He also worked very hard for the Voting Rights Act and he would look at an America today where almost half of our people don't vote. They're disenchanted. They -- Barack's spoken about this. They feel disengaged.

And what we need is a president of the United States who actually believes to their core in equality, who's willing to fight for that equality, who's willing to do things that may not be politically popular. And fighting to end poverty in America may not get you any votes, but it is the right thing to do.


BLITZER: Senator?

OBAMA: Well, I don't think Dr. King would endorse any of us. I think what he would call upon the American people to do is to hold us accountable, and this goes to the core differences, I think, in this campaign.

I believe change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood that.


It was those women who were willing to walk instead of ride the bus, union workers who are willing to take on violence and intimidation to get the right to organize. It was women who decided, "I'm as smart as my husband. I'd better get the right to vote."

OBAMA: them arguing, mobilizing, agitating, and ultimately forcing elected officials to be accountable, I think that's the key.

So that has been a hallmark of my career, transparency and accountability, getting the American people involved. That's how we're going to bring about change. That's why I want to be president of the United States, to respect the power of the American people to bring about change.


BLITZER: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, there is no doubt that change comes from the extraordinary efforts of the American people. I've seen it in my life. I'm sitting here as a result of that change.

It is also true -- and Dr. King understood this. He campaigned for political leaders. He lobbied them. He pushed them. He cajoled. He did everything he could to get them over the line so that they would be part of the movement that he gave his life for.

There are people sitting in this audience right now, John Lewis, Jim Clyburn, they were part of those kinds of efforts, going so far as they could to make it clear that we had to live up to our values and our ideals.

And then there was a meeting of morality and politics. And the political leaders finally responded.

The American people should not have to work so hard to get leaders who will actually help them and recognize we are strongest when we lead by our values. Dr. King transformed the lives of so many of us, and I intend to do whatever I can to make his legacy real in the lives of Americans.

BLITZER: Senators, that ends our debate. Thank you so very much. Thanks to all of you.

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