On Monday, the Pentagon’s chief uniformed spokesman declared that “major combat engagements are over” in Iraq. As the shooting war against Saddam Hussein winds down, the shouting war against President Bush is beginning to heat up. Last week, at a forum hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund, all nine Democratic presidential candidates appeared together for the first time. (You can watch the whole event on the C-SPAN Web site.) With so many contestants running, the first task is to sort them out. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of each candidate’s niche and message.
1. Howard Dean
Job: Former governor, Vermont.
Personal shtick: Authoritative doctor, hero of young idealists.
Policy shtick: Balanced-budget liberal, anti-war, pro-universal health care. Vermont is a model for the nation. He’ll draw bold contrasts, unlike Bush-lite senators.
Policy distinctions: Opposes some federal gun control; opposed Iraq war resolution but talks tough on North Korea; supported welfare reform.
Gets hottest about: Bush’s “despicable” rhetoric against affirmative action.
Line: “I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
2. John Edwards
Job: Senator, North Carolina.
Personal shtick: Mr. Electable, handsome southerner, first in his family to go to college.
Policy shtick: College for everyone; expand children’s health insurance to cover parents; expand Medicare to cover people over 55.
Policy distinctions: Wants after-school programs for latchkey kids and tax credits for family leave.
Gets hottest about: Attacks on his lawyering for “regular people.”
Line: “I still believe that the son of a mill worker can take on the son of a president.”
3. Dick Gephardt
Job: Congressman, former House minority leader, Missouri.
Personal shtick: He knows your woes. His son survived cancer (he saw parents without health insurance); his daughter teaches school (he sees how little teachers are paid).
Policy shtick: Universal health insurance through tax credits to employers; college scholarships for students who become teachers.
Policy distinctions: Wants an “international variable minimum wage.”
Gets hottest about: “Legacy” preference Bush got in college admissions.
4. Bob Graham
Job: Senator and former governor, Florida.
Personal shtick: Grandpa knows best.
Policy shtick: Vague. Criticizes Bush’s tax cut and many 1996 welfare reforms.
Policy distinctions: Opposed Iraq war resolution because it didn’t authorize force against terrorist groups as well.
Gets hottest about: Bush’s tax cut.
5. John Kerry
Job: Senator, Massachusetts.
Personal shtick: War hero, serene eminence, JFK-esque orator. Has the combat record to take on Bush.
Policy shtick: Multilateralism, clean campaigns, energy independence.
Policy distinctions: Opposed Reagan’s “illegal war” in Central America; called for Trent
Gets hottest about: Bush impugning Democrats’ patriotism.
6. Dennis Kucinich
Job: Congressman and former mayor, Ohio.
Personal shtick: Man of the homeless. His birth family was evicted and lived in cars.
Policy shtick: “Economic justice”; more anti-war than thou.
Policy distinctions: Wants to repeal NAFTA and WTO, lower retirement age to 65, and create a U.S. Department of Peace to promote nonviolence.
Getshottest about: Economic injustice.
Line: “Lack of adequate education is a weapon of mass destruction.”
7. Joe Lieberman
Job: Senator, Connecticut.
Personal shtick: Mr. Values. You loved him as a running mate; you trust him as a nominee.
Policy shtick: Values, homeland security, education, civil rights.
Policy distinctions: Supported Iraq war and welfare reform. The only candidate who praises “Clinton-Gore” administration.
Gets hottest about: Bush’s selective application of “values.”
Line: “I know we can beat George W. Bush, because Al Gore and I did it.”
8. Carol Moseley-Braun
Job: Former ambassador and senator, Illinois.
Personal shtick: Woman/mom.
Policy shtick: Money spent on Iraq should be spent at home instead. To equalize resources, feds should play bigger role in school funding. Bush’s policies “segregate” and are “punitive.”
Policy distinctions: Most aggressive defender of civil liberties against anti-terrorism measures.
Gets hottest about: Social service budget cuts.
Line: “I want America to believe that a woman can lead the ship of state.”
9. Al Sharpton
Job: President, National Action Network.
Personal shtick: Dime-rhyming preacher-quipster.
Policy shtick: He’ll fight poverty, illiteracy, right-wing judicial nominees—everything but Iraqis.
Policy distinctions: Says education and health care should be constitutional rights. Also emphasizes voters’ rights and childhood obesity.
Gets hottest about: “Leave No Child Behind” Act.
Line: “All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk.”