MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Iraq war was the dominant issue confronting Democratic presidential candidates Sunday night at their second televised debate of the campaign, this one in the leadoff primary state.
All the major candidates planned to participate in the two-hour debate, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden; former Sens. John Edwards and Mike Gravel; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
The contenders were expected to take questions from a team of journalists for the first hour. In the second hour, questions were to come from about 100 New Hampshire voters who say they are undecided in the contest.
The debate was sponsored by CNN, WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Union Leader. The site was the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester.
The war was expected to be a main focus, as it was during Democrats' first debate, in late April in Orangeburg, S.C. Polls show the war has become deeply unpopular among voters and especially among Democratic activists, who vote heavily in primaries.
Since the first debate, Clinton, Obama and Dodd joined some other Democratic senators to vote against a bill paying for military operations in Iraq after proposed timetables for troop withdrawal was stripped out of it.
Biden, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, voted in favor of the legislation.
Anticipating Democrats' harsh words for the war during the debate, the Republican National Committee began running a radio ad in New Hampshire on Friday that criticizes the candidates who opposed the war spending bill.
"Is politics more important than our troops in harm's way?" state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a retired Marine who fought in the Persian Gulf war, asks in the ad.
The Orangeburg debate was fairly cordial, with candidates taking questions on a range of issues while generally refraining from direct attacks on one another.
Dodd, who badly trails in most polls and is struggling to break out of the pack, criticized the format of that debate. He said it did not allow each candidate enough time to address the issues.
The 2008 presidential calendar, right now, kicks off Jan. 14 with the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire has not scheduled its primary, which, by state law, must be at least a week before any "similar election." The Democratic National Committee wants it held Jan. 22.
A similar debate, featuring 10 announced Republican contenders, was planned for Tuesday evening.