This story was written by April Corbin & Nur Kausar, The Rebel Yell
One is black. One is a woman. One is white.
One of the questions posed at Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate at Cashman Center on Las Vegas Boulevard: How much does this matter?
"Sen. [Barack] Obama and I agree completely that neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign," New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said.
While Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards all agreed that character and the ability to spark change should be the defining factors for voters, one viewer who submitted a question noted that the potential to break historical barriers is impossible to ignore.
"The policy differences among the remaining candidates are so slight that we appear to be choosing on the basis of personality and life story," San Diego, Calif. voter Margaret Wells wrote. "Why should I, as a progressive woman, not resent being forced to choose between the first viable female candidate and the first viable African-American candidate?"
The debate was intended to highlight minority issues, being nationally sponsored by the Nevada Democratic Party, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 100 Black Men of America, Inc. Local partners were the African-American Democratic Leadership Council, Impacto and the College of Southern Nevada.
However, with issues such as candidates' individual backgrounds, the general economy, the war in Iraq and Yucca Mountain dominating the debate, many felt minority issues were glazed over.
"I didn't even hear the words 'affirmative action' once," CSN history and political science professor Alan Balboni said, noting that billing the event as a debate on black-brown issues may have been misleading. "I don't even know if I heard the word 'discrimination.'"
Fellow CSN professor Mike Green shared a sentiment of disappointment after the debate.
"Nothing against MSNBC but they focused more on the horse race and the controversies," Green said.
The top three Democratic Party contenders-a fourth presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, was excluded from the debate by MSNBC-spent much of the remaining time attempting to distinguish themselves from their counterparts.
Clinton highlighted her continual opposition toward using Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste, criticizing Edwards for twice voting in favor of the project and Obama for being financially backed by an energy company that supports the repository.
In his rebuttal, Edwards said he made those votes before new evidence and forged paperwork were discovered. He also tried to distance himself from the other two candidates by saying he's the only candidate adamantly opposed to nuclear power, as well as coal-fired power plants.
Other commentators in the spin room after the debate pointed out that many of the general issues addressed, such as the sub prime mortgage rates leading to a wave of home foreclosures, are of particular interest to minorities.
When it comes to foreclosures per capita, Nevada, a state with a large minority population, has been hit the hardest by the housing crisis.
Clinton said during the debate that blacks and Hispanics were some of the most vulnerable during this crisis and the candidate was more outspoken than her counterparts on her plan to freeze interest rates to prevent foreclosures as well as hold a moratorium on foreclosures for 90 days if and after sworn into office.
"The issues that face all Americans face minorities in sometimes a much more acute fashion," said Rodney Slater, the secretary of transportation under Bill Clinton's administration, who was there to support Hillary Clinton. "Educational opportunities are especially important when it comes to African-Americans and Latinos."
Education took the spotlight sveral times during the televised debate.
Obama said good answers are not what the government lacks when it comes to education.
"What we don't have is a sense of urgency in the White House," Obama said.
When asked about the disproportionately high dropout rate for black males in all levels of the educational system, Obama said as president he intends to talk about the importance of parents nurturing children toward positive attitudes about education.
"Particularly African-American fathers," he said. "[They are] all too often absent from the home. And as somebody who grew up without a father, I know how important that is."
Education and minorities were also discussed within the context of ROTC programs. Moderator Tim Russert cited a federal statute that says a college or university may lose federal funding if it does not provide space for military recruiters or provide a ROTC program for its students.
All three candidates agreed they would "vigorously enforce" the statute.
Clinton cited her work to stop the current administration's attempt to take away signing bonuses from soldiers who get wounded.
Obama said he would seek an increase in force structure in the U.S. Army and Marines to ease strain on families who have dealt with their loved ones going on multiple tours to war zones.
Edwards noted that supporting the military needs to be extended to veterans that have suffered expensive medical injuries, post traumatic stress disorder and homelessness.
"They didn't leave us on our own. We shouldn't leave them on their own," Edwards said, noting that job training, comprehensive physical and mental health and additional education should all be available to these individuals.
Debate sponsor CSN does not have a permanent recruiting station on any of their campuses. However, according to Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Carlos Campo, they regularly get requests from the armed forces to set up booths and always allow them the room.
According to CSN Student Body President Taylor Gray, CSN has the most diverse student population in Nevada.
Campo said he was pleased recruitment was brought up because of the underlying issue that minority students may be taken advantage of by military recruiters.
"Minority students don't have the same options [as non-minorities,]" Campo explained of the issue. "So, they may take an option to the military when it's not really something they want."
The full transcript of MSNBC's Democratic presidential candidate debate can be found at msnbc.msn.com/id/21836286.
© 2008 The Rebel Yell via U-WIRE