STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma's new prominence in the primaries brought six of the nine Democrats running for the presidency to a state that the party's presidential candidates have ignored for decades.
The event Tuesday at Oklahoma State University (search) was the first presidential primary forum ever in Oklahoma.
The state has only seven electoral votes but got the attention of Democratic hopefuls by moving its primary up more than a month to Feb. 3, one week after the first primary in New Hampshire - and well before a clear front-runner is likely to emerge.
"This is exactly what we had in mind," said Jay Parmley, state Democratic Party chairman, standing in the middle of a crowd numbering 5,600. "In fact, this has exceeded expectations."
Most top state Democratic leaders attended, including Gov. Brad Henry (search), and former Govs. George Nigh and David Walters. People waved signs and sported T-shirts for various candidates before the event.
Sen. Joe Lieberman strove to separate himself from the others, saying his support for the war in Iraq and his opposition to gay marriage make him the best Democrat to pry Oklahoma's voters away from President Bush. Oklahoma has not voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson (search) in 1964.
The Connecticut senator said some of his opponents "run the risk of sending a message that they don't know a just war when they see one."
That drew boos, as did his opposition to same-sex marriages. In response, Lieberman suggested that that his moderation would play well off campus.
"These Oklahomans and people all over America should vote for me because I am an independent-minded Democrat," he said. "I am the one Democrat who can take Bush on where he's supposed to be strong - security and mainstream values."
That would better position him to take on Bush's "right-wing agenda," Lieberman said.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) said Bush had eroded relationships with the United Nations and the world community. "I say this is the time for the United States to admit it made a mistake in attacking Iraq," he said.
Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (search) said Bush's approach has "frittered away all the good will we had."
Asked about gay marriages, Moseley Braun recalled an aunt in an interracial marriage decades ago and brought applause when she said, "I don't see any difference between interracial marriages and same sex marriages."
Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt's criticism of Bush's economic policies drew loud applause. He said he worked with President Clinton to produce an economy that created 22 million jobs and turned a huge national deficit into a huge surplus "and in 24 months this president has messed it all up."
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards suggested that the president "come to the Wrangler plant here in Oklahoma and explain to the people who are about to lose their jobs that he sparked the economy."
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean described Bush's tax cuts as perks for his wealthy corporate friends.
"I wouldn't have cut taxes, period," Dean said. "Most people would gladly pay the same taxes they paid when Bill Clinton was president if only they could have the same economy ... when Bill Clinton was president."
Florida Sen. Bob Graham and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, cited scheduling conflicts as reasons for missing the even. Al Sharpton of New York canceled because of a last-minute conflict.