Democrats 'play to their base'

ORANGEBURG, S.C. - Earlier this week, several of the state's political experts posed questions they'd be asking when the eight Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination debated Thursday night in Orangeburg.


Here, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon answers them.

1. How do the candidates react to one another on stage?

"I think you saw - certainly, it wasn't deference - but kind of a mutual respect. Nobody came out as, 'My success depends on crushing you.' I think they were afraid of turning the (Democratic) base off."

2. How tough will the pack be on Hillary Clinton?

Candidates took a few shots, but Mr. Huffmon expected them to be tougher.

However, he recalled the way Congressman Rick Lazio was attacked for going after Mrs. Clinton when the two were competing for the New York Senate seat - and he thinks other presidential candidates Thursday had the same picture in mind.

"Nobody wanted to seem like a bully."

3. To whom are the candidates playing?

They didn't abandon their base, giving time to such topics as health care. But Mrs. Clinton and Bill Richardson in particular played to independents and conservative Democrats by emphasizing gun rights.

"They virtually said it (the Second Amendment) was sacrosanct. Richardson said it was precious."

4. Which candidates will break out of the second and third tiers?

"(Christopher) Dodd and (Joe) Biden did the most because they had the farthest to go. Because outside of their own states, they were virtually unknowns."

Still, "There's no Obama supporter going, 'Sign me up for Dodd.'"

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803)-414-6611 or



Mike Gravel: "And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me - they frighten me."

Moderator: "Who on this stage exactly tonight worries you so much?"

Mr. Gravel: "Well, I would say the top-tier ones. The top-tier ones. They've made statements. Oh, Joe, I'll include you, too."


Hillary Clinton: "I think Clinton showed her supporters what they expected," Mr. Huffmon said. "She did not come across as cold. She came across as smart."


Bill Richardson: "A brilliant guy, experienced diplomat, a policy centrist and somebody who has a lot of ideas and he enacted them. And that didn't come through," Mr. Huffmon said. "He came across as hesitant."


The eight candidates: Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.