DETROIT – GWEN IFILL: Welcome back to the Democratic presidential candidates' debate here in Detroit. We are in the historic Fox Theatre, which is celebrating its 75th year of operation, the perfect location for tonight's event.
We now enter round four of questions for the candidates. My first question, however, will go to Governor Dean, who feels like he's been knocked around a little bit. I just want to warn you, I'm calling this round "the conventional wisdom round."
Governor Dean, in your case, the rap on you, of course, is that -- is some of the things you've been hearing tonight, but including the fact that you were a small-time governor, that you are in favor of the war, but that you're -- you are against the war, but you're in favor of other things.
How do you respond to that, and how do you respond to Senator Kerry?
HOWARD DEAN: Well, you know, George Bush the first called Bill Clinton a governor from a small, failed state. I welcome Senator Kerry's remarks.
He managed to get two punches in right before the bell so we had the spectacle of Senator Kerry using President Bush's financial arguments and numbers in order to spend (ph) the Bush tax cuts, and then he attacks me on the policy that I disagreed with him on. Senator Kerry agreed with George Bush on the war.
If you're going to defend the president's tax cuts and you're going to defend the president's war, I frankly don't think we can beat George Bush by being "Bush lite." I think we've got to stand up for Democratic principles.
IFILL: And how do you expect to sell that notion on the road?
DEAN: How do I expect to sell that to the nation?
DEAN: Because I expect that when you stand up for what you believe in, people desperately want to have somebody who's not just going to tell them what they believe or what they ought to believe or what they think. What they really want is somebody who's going to stand up for Democratic Party principles.
I started out this campaign saying I was from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, which Paul Wellstone said. And I didn't meant that I was a big liberal, I was a big conservative, I was a big moderate. What I meant was, just like Paul Wellstone, I say what I think, and I don't care if 70 percent of the people in this country disagree with me, as long as I believe it's the right thing to do.
IFILL: The next person on our conventional wisdom round is Senator Kerry.
I'll give you a chance to respond to what Governor Dean just said.
But also the rap on you is that you're kind of a Northeastern, liberal elitist and that you have some problem connecting with people. How do you dispel that notion?
JOHN KERRY: Well, wait until you see my video, Kerry Gone Wild.
IFILL: I can't wait.
KERRY: Let me just come back quickly, if I can. What Governor Dean just said is incorrect on both counts.
Number one, I don't use the numbers of the administration. I use the Brookings Institute numbers. They are separate, completely independent and reliable.
Secondly, the people who have helped me work those numbers are many of the very people who helped Bill Clinton put together that economy in the 1990s.
Thirdly, with respect to the war and saying what you believe, we never heard Governor Dean ever say how he would deal with Iraq. I voted the way I think was correct to deal with the security of our country.
And we had a right as Americans to expect the president of the United States to do it properly. We have a right to expect him to make that coalition, to use the diplomacy.
I believe Americans want somebody who can defend the security of the United States. And this war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement operation. And the American people deserve somebody who can lead them to do it correctly and make us safer and stronger in the process.
IFILL: Thank you, Senator.
Congressman Gephardt, you've done this before. You ran for president in 1988. You got a lot of support from unions, a lot of whom seem to be hanging back. In fact, the Service Employees International Union appears to be flirting with Governor Dean.
Has your moment passed?
RICHARD GEPHARDT: No, I think my moment's arrived. I'm going to beat George Bush in November of 2004.
I'm going to win this race because I have the most experience, I think, of anybody on this stage. I've dealt with every issue that we've had to deal with. I've fought against the Republican ideas in 1994 of deep cuts in Medicare, big tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
I led the fight for the Clinton economic program in 1993. I'm proud of that. I'm proud I worked with the Congressional Black Caucus and the other members of our caucus to pass that economic plan. And it worked. It made America a better place. I'm proud of that.
And I'm proud that we have helped with that good economy. The poorest people in this country do better. They did better in the Clinton years than they've ever done. And incidentally, everybody did better when Bill Clinton was president.
I've said it before -- I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you want to live like a Republican, you better vote for the Democrats.
IFILL: Thank you, Congressman.
GEPHARDT: One more word: Like father, like son, four years and this president is done.
IFILL: Senator Edwards, the rap on you, you're a one-term senator. You are a trial lawyer and, therefore, you're supposed to be compromised by that somehow. The expectations for you were so high in the beginning that you were on the cover of Newsweek magazine, yet in the latest Newsweek poll out today, you're in the bottom of the pack.
JOHN EDWARDS: First of all, nothing happened. I'm doing great in Iowa, moving up in New Hampshire, got a double-digit lead in the state of South Carolina.
I'm very proud of what's happening with my campaign -- first, because I have the most comprehensive plan on jobs, on the economy, on allowing all kids who are willing to work for it to go to college, to deal with the two public school systems we have in America, a real comprehensive health-care plan. I've written it down. I'm giving it out to voters all over the country, and they are responding.
More importantly, I am fighting for, in this campaign, the very people that I grew up with: people like my father, who worked in a mill all his life; people like the people that I fought for for 20 years in courtrooms against big corporations, against big insurance companies, against big drug companies.
When I am president of the United States, I will continue the cause that has been the cause of my life, which is fighting for everything -- giving everything I have inside, to stand up for working people, to stand up for middle-class families and to keep them from being denied the opportunity that they're entitled to.
That's what I'll do as president of the United States. And that's the reason this campaign is going to work.
IFILL: Ambassador Braun, the last financial statements show that your campaign actually has very little money. You are the only woman in this race, yet your base of support seems to be at least thin. What is your break-out strategy?
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: Break-out strategy -- I think that we have a vibrant, robust campaign. I am very excited about putting this campaign effort together. We are doing very well in the polls, as you know, beating a number of candidates who have been out in the field for over a year and have 20 times the money we have. We've got a grassroots effort.
So if break-out strategy means working with people and talking to voters one-on-one, retail strategy, I am happy to do that. That's how I've always won elections. You know, my whole career has been a matter of bringing people together and building bridges and breaking down barriers.
And I've made history before when people said I couldn't win. And I intend to make history again and take the "men only" sign off the White House door.
Since I have another second, let me just tell a quick story. When I first ran for office, they told me, "Don't run, you can't possibly win. The blacks won't vote for you because you're not part of the Chicago machine. The whites won't vote for you because you're black. And nobody is going to vote for you because you're a women."
I got in the race. I won. I have been winning elections ever since.
People vote for their interests, and they will vote for me.
IFILL: Thank you, Ambassador.
Congressman Kucinich, we looked it up today, the last member of the House who was elected directly from the House to the presidency was Abraham Lincoln.
That was a long time ago. How do you plan to break that string of failure?
DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, actually, that president, who was James Garfield, lived in the same county that I am from. So I'm looking to repeat history, in that regard.
And I also will say that we have to -- I suppose all of us must believe this, but my presence here on this stage arises from growing up in the city of Cleveland and understanding the power of individuals to change the outcome, of being able to come from poverty, being able to come from living in a car and understanding that with hope and with courage you can create new possibilities.
And I think every American is waiting for a president who can relate to the aspirations of people who don't have jobs so that we can have a full-employment economy where the president understands the importance of jobs.
People today who don't have health care want a president who understands how important it is to have health care because maybe at some time in his life he didn't have the advantages.
I think people are looking for someone they can identify with and someone who has been able to achieve an American dream and cause all people to have the chance to reach and achieve that dream.
IFILL: Thank you, Congressman.
HUEL PERKINS: I know this is not a time to (inaudible) moderator. If I may, before we move on from Congressman Kucinich, you said something earlier in this debate that I think is important that we correct for you to know and for the nation to know. You mentioned that there were...
... 300 people dead in the streets of Detroit in September. That is absolutely untrue.
There has actually been, actually been...
KUCINICH: I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.
PERKINS: You said that there were 300 people dead in the streets of Detroit in September...
KUCINICH: No, it's 35. I misspoke.
PERKINS: Yes, please. Let's consider, there's actually been a 30 percent reduction in the homicide rate in Detroit. I think you need to be clear on that.
KUCINICH: The numbers were 17,000, I think, since 1972 and 35 in September. And I appreciate...
IFILL: I'm glad we cleared that up.
KUCINICH: ... the chance to correct the record. Thank you. Thank you.
IFILL: Next question is for Senator Lieberman. The question, you've heard the term bandied about on this stage tonight, "Bush lite." That's the rap on you, that you are way too moderate, way too middle-of-the-road for especially Democratic primary voters.
How do you sell yourself or convince people that you can be the standard bearer, that you can be angry enough to take on George W. Bush?
JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, first off, let me say that nobody's used the reference "Bush lite" to me since Wes Clark became a Democrat and got into this presidential race.
So I welcome you in that regard. I've been a lifelong Democrat. I'm a proud Democrat.
You'd have a hard time finding two Americans who are angrier about George Bush's presidency than Al Gore and me. Believe me.
And look at my record: strong on civil rights throughout my career, strong on environmental protection. I believe that America will not be the country we want it to be unless the government is involved in making our schools better, ending the two tiers of education today, providing health insurance, working to stand behind manufacturers, growing the middle class.
I was attorney general of my state and fought the special interests on behalf of the people.
I got to tell you, Gwen, I get angry when people say to me somehow that I'm not an authentic Democrat because I'm strong on defense, strong on values and willing to talk about the role of faith in American life. I'm not going to yield that ground to the Republicans.
I'm Joe Lieberman. I'm an independent-minded Democrat. And as president, I'm going to restore prosperity and security to the American people. That's who I am.
IFILL: Thank you.
General Clark, I'll be back with you in a moment. I know you want to respond.
But first, I want to turn to Reverend Sharpton. Your rap is that your rhetoric is very high-flown but that there's not a lot of policy to back it up, that you are a provocateur but that you shouldn't be taken seriously.
How do you respond to that?
AL SHARPTON: Well, I think the folks that are behind me in the polls -- you called the Newsweek poll -- they take me very seriously.
And I think that -- I've put out a book out on America full of policy. If the media would read rather than write, they would be very clear...
... that we're talking about very serious stuff.
But the problem we have is that in America many of us are not taking seriously. Most of us are not taken seriously. That's why we have a president that would send money to Iraq and not money to the schools in Detroit. That's why we have a president that wants to give people the right to vote in the capital of Iraq, Baghdad, and not respect the right of the voters in the capital of the U.S. in Washington, D.C.
So the problem is that they don't take me seriously personally. They don't take us, collectively, seriously.
And that's why we need to register and vote and come out in numbers like we never did before...
... so they will never ever marginalize and not take us seriously again.
IFILL: General Clark, you heard what Senator Lieberman had to say about you, and you heard what other people said about you, which is that your campaign started fast and then you hit organizational stumbles and that, in fact, you have never been elected anything.
Why start as president?
WESLEY CLARK: Well, you're exactly right, Gwen. In fact, the last election I was in was for home-room student council representative.
We put our heads down on our desks, the teacher asked us to raise our hand.
And I voted for my best friend. And after it was over, I said, "Well, you voted for me, right?" He said, "No, I didn't." He won by one vote.
I am not up here running for home-room student council representative. I am in this campaign because this country is in one heck of a mess. It's in a mess in Iraq, it's in a mess at home, and it needs strong leadership.
And Americans want leaders who can not only talk the talk but walk the walk. And that's what I have done in my career in the United States Army, and that's why I am here in front of you today.
I am proud of my service in the United States Army.
Gwen, I fought in Vietnam as a company commander. I came home on a stretcher. I stayed with the United States Army when other people left the service. I worked in the United States Army to make it a great institution.
And I'm proud of the fact that we lived affirmative action in that institution, and we made it one of the best institutions in America for treating every individual with respect and dignity. And that's the spirit I bring to leadership.
IFILL: Thank you.
We have now reached the point in the debate where each of the candidates will have one minute to sum up the statements of the evening, starting with Senator Kerry.
KERRY: Thank you.
There's a front-page story in today's Washington Post that says that Democrats are going to try to run away from the issue of gun safety.
I don't think that we can get elected nationally if we are not prepared to stand up against powerful special interests and make it clear that, whether it's the NRA or any other special interest, we're prepared to stand for our principles.
All across this country, we have too many people who die each year from guns. So let me make it plain: I am for the assault weapons ban. I'm for the Brady Bill. I'm for making sure we stand up for gun safety in this country. We cannot be a party that retreats in an effort to try to court votes and not save lives.
We also have to stand up against all the special interests. They have changed the face of America. They're stealing our own democracy.
And I believe whether it's rolling back the high end of the Bush tax cut or getting big oil out of the White House or reversing the policy decisions with respect to education, we need in this country to fight against those interests that are taking the voices of the average Americans away.
I've done that for 35 years. And I intend to do that and stand up to them as president of the United States.
IFILL: Senator Edwards?
JOHN EDWARDS: George Bush's America is not our America, but we have to do more than say, "I told you so."
I have a very concrete plan about how to move this country forward. I have written it down. It's not a wish list. It's not political rhetoric. These are real ideas that I can put in place from the first day I'm in office that will improve the lives of real Americans: 5 million more jobs in two years; health care as a birth right for every child in America; college for every young person who's willing to work for it.
There are a lot of issues in this campaign and this election. At the end of the day, the election is about something much bigger than that. It's about what kind of America we are. It's about what kind of America we want to be.
I believe in an America where the family you are born into and the color of your skin never controls your destiny. I believe in an America where the son of a truck driver can be a brain surgeon. I believe in an America where the daughter of a school teacher can be a CEO. And I still believe in an America where the son of a mill worker could beat the son of a president for the White House.
That's the America I will fight for.
IFILL: Thank you, Senator.
SHARPTON: I've been in this race talking about, we need to create jobs. I have an infrastructure redevelopment plan, $250 billion over five years, rebuilding bridges, highways, tunnels.
I have also talked about single-payer-plan national health insurance.
I have also talked about how we must save this party from continually moving to the right and away from the base voters that depended on this party historically.
This party has lost the Congress in the last six elections because we've run away from the base voters that need us the most.
My running is not only to win the White House but it's for this party to register voters and a message that we can win state houses and congressional houses and Senate houses and save this country from where it is.
I think that when you vote, you vote for who represents what you feel is right. That is why I have said we have got to stop these elephants that are wearing donkey jackets.
I intend to slap this donkey, the Democratic Party, until this donkey kicks George Bush out of the White House next November.
IFILL: Thank you, Reverend Sharpton.
KUCINICH: Thank you.
This afternoon I met with a group of Detroit-area activists who are called "To Save Our Sons And Daughters." Their sons and daughters had experienced death by great violence, usually by guns.
And in the union hall where we met, there were pictures of the children spread across card tables. It was the funeral home programs that talked about their lives. And in meeting with the activists, they told me about the 35 homicides in Detroit in the year 2003, and how in Detroit since '72 there's 17,000 homicides and nationally 11,000 homicides a year.
And what they called me there to talk to me about is the war at home, the war at home.
We're in Detroit today, and we realize that Detroit was representative of so many American cities who are waiting for an opportunity to come up and have the triumph of hope over despair.
We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Unemployment is a weapon of mass destruction.
And we need to address these problems here in our cities, and that's why my candidacy for president is all about.
IFILL: Thank you, Congressman Kucinich.
Ambassador Moseley Braun?
BRAUN: Thank you very much.
You know, this race is not about the people on this stage or even George Bush; it's about you. It's about the people in this country.
And I believe our country is at a crossroads. If the Bush bait- and-switch administration stays in place for another four years, we won't recognize America.
I believe that it is time for women to have a chance to be heard and to renew this country.
I am qualified to do this job, and I'm ready to take the "men only" sign off the White House door...
... but I need your help to do it.
I hope everyone here commits themselves to register voters and to let people know that every vote counts, in spite of the 2000 election. We have a responsibility to our children to make sure that we leave them no less opportunity, no less hope, no less freedom than our ancestors left us.
And if we are to do honor to our ancestors and justice to our children, we have to come together to make certain that these people do not continue to bait and switch and take our country and take the promise of our country away from us.
It is time for another direction. I'm the clearest alternative to George Bush. I don't look like him, I don't talk like him, I don't act like him...
... I don't think like him. And I can put this country on the right track as president of the United States.
IFILL: Thank you, Ambassador.
DEAN: There are a lot of politicians in America today looking at our campaign and wondering how we're doing it, and the truth is, we're not doing it, you're doing it.
This is not an election just to change presidents. This is an election to change Washington and change America.
The people on this stage with me have over three-quarters of a century of experience in Washington. And if one of them wins the nomination, believe me, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure they become the next president of the United States.
But we have to change American politics. And that means we have to be free of special interests. A lot of people have talked about that. A lot of people have talked about a lot of things. We are where we are today, those 200,000 Americans gave us $75 a piece. There are no special interests in Washington anymore that are going to be able to buy us for $75 a piece. The special interest that's supporting us are the American people.
It is time to take our country back. You have the power to do that with what you have done already in this campaign. We have the power to take back the Democratic Party and make it stand up for what we believe again. We have the power to take back the United States of America so our flag is not owned by John Ashcroft and Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell anymore. It belongs to all of us.
And we have the power, we have the power, you have the power together to take back the White House in 2004. And that is exactly what we're going to do.
IFILL: Thank you, Governor.
CLARK: We're at a crucial turning point in American history. We are in trouble. We're in war abroad, and we have a failing economy at home.
I learned in the United States Army, in my military career, how to stand up to dictators. I learned how to put a plan together. I learned how to keep our troops safe and accomplish the mission.
I've put my finger in the chest of a dictator and told him if he didn't shape up, we'd bomb him. And when he didn't shape up, we did. And he's in The Hague now, awaiting trial for war crimes.
But I also learned leadership in the United States Army. I learned that generals don't win wars, soldiers do, that we're all in this together, that a unit is no stronger than every soldier in it, that every soldier in it has got to have the education, training and skills he needs, that you have to have a high code of ethics, that we're all in that together, and that great leaders don't only have plans, they listen to the lead.
I'd like to see an America in which business and political leaders stop just looking out for themselves, but look out for all of us. I'd like to see an America in which business and political leaders understand that ordinary Americans aren't just cogs in the system, they are America.
I'd like to see an America in which business and political leaders make sure that every American gets the education and training he needs to contribute to this country. And if he's not an equal plate and field, we put him there.
CLARK: We can have that America. We can have that America if we make the right choice in this election. It starts by changing the administration in Washington and getting real leadership in our nation's capital.
IFILL: Thank you, General.
GEPHARDT: America is at a crossroads. This election is not about me or any of us. It's about all of us. It's about what kind of country this is going to be.
I see the world very differently than George Bush. I think we're all tied together.
Somebody doesn't have health insurance, he still gets sick. You go to the emergency room. They have worse problems than they should. Then we got to take care of that. That gets put on your bill whether you know it or not.
Somebody's child doesn't get educated, winds up in prison. We all pay the bills every day.
Martin Luther King said, "I can't be what I ought to be until you can be what you ought to be." And that's what I really believe.
My own life is the best example. I grew up poor. I got to go to university and law school because the Baptist church I grew up in gave me loans so that I could go.
And I just want all of you to know this: When I am in that Oval Office, every day, on every issue, I am going to be trying to figure out how every person in this country fulfills their God- given potential, nobody left out, nobody left behind.
We can make America a better place than it's ever been.
IFILL: Thank you, Congressman.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Gwen. Thanks to you, Carl, Huel, and the Congressional Black Caucus and the city of Detroit, for a great debate tonight.
Gwen, campaigns are about ideas for the future. They're about our vision for how to make our country better. I presented a lot of new ideas in this campaign to give America a fresh start. You can find them on my Web site at joe2004.com.
I want to talk about one quickly here at the end, and that's tax reform and tax fairness.
Under George Bush, corporations and the people at the top are paying a lot less. The middle class is being squeezed -- higher health-care costs, education costs, job insecurity. People -- and median incomes are down.
The middle class needs a break. Without a strong middle class, we're never going to have a strong America.
That's what my tax fairness plan does. It will cut taxes on 98 percent of taxpayers. That's right, 98 percent of the taxpayers will get a cut in taxes under my plan.
Will I ask corporations to pay their fair share to make that happen? Yes. Will I close loopholes? Absolutely. Will I ask people who can afford it to pay more? You bet I will. That's the way to be fair, to bring down the deficit, to protect Social Security and implement my plan to create 10 million new jobs in the first four years.
That's the way to lead with integrity and fairness, which George Bush hasn't done and which I will do as president of the United States.
Thank you very much.
IFILL: Which will be the final word. That concludes our debate.
We would like to thank the candidates for their time, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, the very lively audience here at the Fox Theatre in Detroit...
... and of course our audience at home.
I'm Gwen Ifill. For my colleagues and for Fox News, good night.