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IN THE NEWS - In '08 Campaign, a Debate Brings Everyday Citizens Into the Political Process

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Presidential hopefuls in the United States still travel the country, meeting people and shaking hands. But now they also have to reach out for money and support online, and not just through official campaign Web sites. They also use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and video sharing sites like YouTube.

Democratic presidential hopefuls, from left to right: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and Senator Joseph Biden.
Democratic presidential hopefuls, from left to right: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and Senator Joseph Biden.

This week, the eight Democratic candidates gathered for a debate that was the first of its kind. Anyone with Internet access could record a question on video and send it in through YouTube. The debate aired live on CNN, the Cable News Network.

Many of the questions involved foreign policy, especially the Iraq war. The mother of a soldier was concerned that her son is about to return to Iraq.

The mother of a soldier asks the candidates a question
The mother of a soldier asks the candidates a question

QUESTION: "How many more soldiers must die while these political games continue in our government?"

Senator Barack Obama pointed out that he has always opposed the war.

BARACK OBAMA: "The time for us to ask how we were going to get out of Iraq was before we went in, and that is something that too many of us failed to do."

Senator Obama also said that if elected president, he would be willing to meet with leaders from Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

But Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, had a different position.

HILLARY CLINTON: "Because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I do not want to be used for propaganda purposes."

Other questions dealt with racial and social issues, like same-sex marriage.

QUESTION: "Hi, my name is Mary. And my name is Jen. And we're from Brooklyn, New York. If you were elected president of the United States, would you allow us to be married ... to each other?"

Most of the candidates who had a chance to deal with this issue said they would support civil unions, a step short of marriage.

This new form of debate was praised because it forced candidates away from the usual questions they expect.

Aid workers recorded a video with children at a refugee camp near Darfur. In another one, a melting animated snowman asked about global warming.

And a man from Michigan wanted to know if "our babies are safe." He meant guns, and he had a large rifle. He asked the candidates about their positions on gun control.

Still, some critics said the public should have been able to choose the questions, instead of CNN.

More than two and a half million people watched the debate on television. Viewing by younger people ages eighteen to thirty-four was said to be the highest ever for a debate in cable news history.

Still, it was the second most-watched debate of the campaign season so far. A CNN-YouTube debate for the Republican candidates is planned for September seventeenth. The election is in November of next year.

If you have a question about the process of electing the president, we might be able to answer it on the air. Write to special@voanews.com. Please include your name and where you are from.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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