When the Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination assemble in Manchester Sunday, they’ll face debate questions assembled by journalists who are trying to be tough but fair, and to be provocative without baiting.
The Politico, by contrast, has solicited debate questions from people with no such reservations: competing Democratic campaign aides and advisers to the six leading campaigns.
This is primary season, after all, and partisan firing squads are circular. These rivals submitted questions on the condition that they be identified only as coming from aides or advisers to a Democratic campaign. The questions point sharply to candidates’ perceived weaknesses and map the terrain on which the primary campaign will be fought.
Many have to do with the war in Iraq and are particularly aimed at Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Others raise hypocrisy issues, especially for Edwards and Obama.
Questions for the other candidates—New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut—relate more often to specific policy stances.
A selection of the questions is reprinted below largely as they were submitted, though some have been trimmed or edited for style or clarity. Questions offered to multiple candidates have been assigned to just one. We ditched those perceived to be just silly or mean.
They aren’t intended, at least not by Politico, to be fair or necessarily to resemble actual debate questions. Some include contested factual assertions. What they offer are a glimpse at the heated, intensely competitive primary process that’s underway behind the smiles, handshakes and hugs you’ll see from the candidates on the podium in New Hampshire this weekend.
Sen. Hillary Clinton:
-- Were you at the caucus meeting where former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., suggested that all Democratic senators read the full classified National Intelligence Estimate? Why didn’t you read it?
-- If you were briefed on the classified intelligence, how can we trust you to make the right decision in the future with all the facts in front of you? And if you didn’t read the classified intelligence, how can we trust you to get all the facts in front of you?
-- You’ve often talked about the importance of unions, but when you were on the board of Wal-Mart, you reportedly were silent while Wal-Mart actively and publicly opposed union organizing. How do you explain this contradiction?
-- The Washington Post said that “[your] loyalists describe [you] as the least-known famous person in politics, by which they mean they do not believe people know the real Hillary Clinton. They hope to use town hall meetings, living room coffees and interactive Internet conversations to reintroduce her to voters.” However, you’ve hired an expert in “thought leadership,” and a corporate branding expert to confront potential “character issues.” Why did your campaign hire these consultants? What have you learned from them?
Former Sen. John Edwards:
-- You had access to classified information, including the National Intelligence Estimate, during the days before the vote to go to war in Iraq. However, your campaign recently admitted that you did not read the NIE, one of the only documents that provided key caveats to the Bush administration's justification for war. Why not? And do you wish that you had?
-- You’ve now been running for president as long as you were in the Senate. Should Americans trust that you have the experience to be commander in chief?
-- Over the past four years, you have collected approximately $580,000 in salary from three jobs—Fortress Investments, your poverty center and the Senate—where you often didn&rsqo;t show up for work. You talk a lot about the importance of hard work and the work ethic your father instilled in you. Was it right for you to get paid so much for what amounted to very little work? Isn’t that the kind of inequality your campaign is fighting against?
-- You’ve railed against offshore tax shelters but you’ve still got money in the Caymans through your investments in Fortress hedge fund. Will you divest yourself of those holdings?
Sen. Barack Obama:
-- You rose to prominence as an anti-war candidate who opposed funding the operation in Iraq in your 2004 Senate primary race. But when you got to the Senate, you went underground, failing to speak out on the war for the first 18 or so months in office and voting to fund the war. Why did you wait until you became a presidential candidate to speak out about the war? Are you pandering to the left?
-- Do you honestly think you can convince voters that there’s something new, different, better in the way you do politics when, since entering the Senate, you chose to conduct a real estate deal with a known—now indicted—Chicago criminal?
-- You’ve promised universal health care but failed to include the one thing in your plan that experts across the board think is needed to ensure coverage for all—a coverage mandate. Isn’t it misleading to promise universal health care when leading academics have concluded that a mandate is needed to cover everyone?
-- Your website says “We need to take steps to stop climate change.” If you believe this, why do you support liquid coal technology, which would worsen global warming?
For Gov. Bill Richardson:
-- You've based your campaign on your resume. But recently, many aspects of your resume have been called into question—from the trivial, like your baseball career, to the more significant, like your claim to have brokered a peace deal in Darfur. Do these exaggerations undermine the rationale for your candidacy?
-- As governor and representative from New Mexico, you’ve been a supporter of gun rights, including voting against background checks. But as a Democratic presidential candidate you’ve come out in favor of them. Are you moving away from your New Mexico record to appeal to the Democratic primary voter?
For Sen. Joe Biden:
-- Your plan for Iraq would establish three separate self-governing regions. Wouldn’t this plan act as a prelude to a violent and uncontrollable breakup of that country?
-- In 2006 you supported the Senate’s immigration reform bill “because it was the best option available.” You also recently said better border security, employer punishment and a guest worker program were important to the current immigration reform bill. What would a perfect bill look like?
For Sen. Chris Dodd:
-- Why are you stalling on holding a hearing about the executive pay bill that would give shareholders more say on executive pay?
-- While you have said you support rolling back the Bush tax cuts, you’ve also said the estate tax should be “moderated” or eliminated for some. How precisely should the estate tax be changed?