Smiley Promises Balanced Debate on Black Issues

By Politics
Thursday, June 28, 2007

When Democratic contenders meet at Howard University on Thursday night for their third presidential debate, the agenda will be focused on issues of importance to African American voters. But despite a panel made up entirely of minority journalists, the event is "not tailor-made" for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), said Tavis Smiley, the PBS host who will moderate the forum.

"Barack Obama could absolutely tank," Smiley said yesterday. He said he would neither prop up Obama, the only African American candidate in the race, nor set any traps for him. Instead, the eight candidates will all get to answer each of the 12 questions he asks during the 90-minute forum.

Smiley said he considers Obama a friend, but Smiley has also offered advice to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (Ill.), whom he described as having "a shell" around her. "I've tried to encourage her to be more open, and I've asked her, 'Do you have a soul?' " Smiley said. He declined to share Clinton's answer.

The debate will be aired on PBS from 9 to 10:30 p.m.

-- Anne E. Kornblut

In S.C., Thompson Sticks It to Washington

In his first speech in an early primary state, Fred Thompson -- actor, ex-senator, former lobbyist and Republican presidential aspirant -- visited Columbia, S.C., yesterday and appealed to fellow Southerners with a conservative pitch that belittled foolishness in Washington.

Thompson, who is expected to enter the race officially in the coming weeks, gave a 30-minute speech in which he touched on conservative principles to the delight of his audience of about 400, who clapped and cheered his made-for-applause lines.

"We pick up the newspaper and see what's going on in Washington and the foolishness there -- all things partisan, all the energy directed inwardly instead of trying to work together to do something good for this country, even with regard to something this important," he said, discussing the terrorism threat.

In brief remarks to reporters, Thompson acknowledged his long tenure in Washington and defended his criticism of it.

"You don't have to be from Alaska or Hawaii to see faults with your government," he said. "I've been talking about things wrong with Washington when I was a part of it, before I was a part of it and since I've been a part of it."

In his speech, Thompson assailed "unbearable tax burdens," called for restrained spending, and argued for a smaller federal government. He expressed his opposition to the immigration bill in Congress and decried the flow of illegal immigrants from Cuba, saying: "I don't imagine they're coming here to bring greetings from Castro. We're living in the era of the suitcase bomb."

And, he said, as long as U.S. troops in Iraq have hope and optimism, so would he, and, "I'm not going to cut it off short."

-- Associated Press

Candidate Paul Protests Exclusion

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul will add party crashing to his campaign tactics this weekend.

The Texas congressman, who has struggled to top 1 percent in national polls, wasn't invited to a forum of presidential candidates Saturday in Des Moines sponsored by the Iowa Christian Alliance and the watchdog group Iowans for Tax Relief.

Paul's campaign decided to hold its own party in the same hall where the forum will take place. They're calling it a celebration of life and liberty.

Campaign spokesman Jesse Benton said it has been frustrating to be excluded, especially because Paul has consistently opposed abortion and is known nationally for his advocacy of lowering taxes.

"It's just a little head-scratching," Benton said.

-- Associated Press

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