Abundance of Warmth At Democratic Forum

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 2, 2007

DES MOINES, Dec. 1 -- Could former senator John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama be considering a truce?

For a brief moment Saturday night, that unlikely prospect suddenly appeared possible.

Democratic presidential candidates had gathered here for the Brown and Black Forum, a panel on minority issues, and during a question-and-answer period, Edwards (N.C.) was given an opportunity to aim a question at any of his rivals.

Rather than hit Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) with a tough challenge, Edwards lobbed something of a softball to Obama: Would the senator from Illinois, he asked, join him in pushing to raise the minimum wage to $9.50?

"I think our voices together are more powerful than our voices alone," Edwards said, praising Obama even as he asked the question.

In his response, Obama did not hesitate. "The answer is yes," he said, drawing a large round of applause. "And John has done good work on this."

Less than five weeks before the Iowa caucuses, with Obama, Edwards and Clinton locked in a three-way tie in the first state to vote, the forum produced surprisingly few fireworks as the rivals sought out areas on which they agree. If anything dominated the evening, it was the cold weather: Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) arrived halfway through the event, filling an empty seat that had been waiting for him onstage for an hour, because a storm had delayed his flight in Chicago.

"I apologize," Biden said, adding in a nod to his better-financed rivals, "I don't have a plane."

Before an audience made up largely of minorities, Clinton was forced to address once more her October response to a debate question about giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. After first equivocating, she later came out in support of the idea; now she opposes it.

Clinton has adopted more than one tone on immigration on the campaign trail. In front of some audiences, she has emphasized her desire to toughen enforcement at the borders and to crack down on employers who hire illegal workers. But on Saturday night, she struck a softer note, citing the country's "immigrant values" and accusing the Republican candidates of demagoguery on the subject.

Earlier in the day, at a forum in Des Moines, Clinton was booed when she refused to pledge to push for immigration reform and to help provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants during her first 100 days as president.

Also Saturday night, she faced a question about whether her husband's crime bill in the 1990s had increased incarceration rates. She said that it had, calling that an "unacceptable increase."

But like Obama and Edwards, Clinton had her own moment of comity with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson when he directed his allotted candidate-to-candidate question toward her.

Did Clinton, Richardson asked, agree that governors -- such as her husband and himself -- make good presidents?

"Well, Bill, I also think they make good vice presidents," Clinton said.

At another point, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) used his chance to ask another candidate a question by posing one to himself.

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