WASHINGTON -- The Democratic presidential candidates jostled Wednesday night to appear more family-friendly than one another and to justify their varied positions on Iraq in light of the day's developments in Baghdad.
"My priority will be our children," pledged U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who noted that he is a grandfather of 10, in what was one of his first appearances on the campaign trail.
The forum, held by the Children's Defense Fund, was the first time all nine presidential candidates had appeared together on the same stage.
Several of those who opposed the war in Iraq, including U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, argued that the money spent removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could have be better spent on expanding access to health insurance and subsidizing day care.
U.S. John Edwards of North Carolina, who supported the war, offered a different take.
"This is not an either-or choice," Edwards said. "We can do two things at the same time."
He rattled off four proposals he has been touting on the campaign trail, all of which he said could be paid for by the portion of President Bush's tax cut that benefits the wealthiest taxpayers.
Among Edwards' ideas: creating a $2,500 family-leave tax credit; strengthening after-school programs; toughening work requirements for fathers of children on welfare; and providing a free first year of college for students willing to work 10 hours a week.
U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who backed the war, used much of his time to tout his commitment to expanding access to health-care insurance, which he, too, said could be paid for by a rollback of Bush's tax cut.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who supported the war resolution, said he had been moved by pictures from Baghdad on Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said that in the wake of the war it is time to "reorder our priorities."
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said it was a mistake from the outset to back the "presidential pre-emptive war."
His view was echoed by civil rights activist Al Sharpton of New York, who also vigorously defended the importance of affirmative action programs.
Earlier Wednesday, eight of the candidates appeared at an event in Washington held by the Building and Construction Trades department of the AFL-CIO.
Edwards called for a ban on permanent strike-replacement workers and promised to stand up for collective bargaining.
Politics - John Edwards
Washington correspondent John Wagner can be reached at (202) 662-4380 or firstname.lastname@example.org.