Debate has YouTube twist

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Young, Internet-savvy voters challenged Democratic presidential hopefuls on Iraq, the military draft and the candidates' own place in a broken political system, playing starring roles in a provocative, video-driven debate Monday night.

"Wassup?" came the first question, from a voter named Zach, after another, named Chris, opened the CNN-YouTube debate with a barb aimed at the entire eight-candidate field: "Can you as politicians ... actually answer questions rather than beat around the bush?"

The answer was a qualified yes. The candidates faced a slew of blunt questions - from earnest to the ridiculous - and, in many cases, responded in kind.

To Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois: Are you black enough? "You know, when I'm catching a cab in Manhattan ... I'm giving my credentials," he replied.

To Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York: Are you feminine enough? "I couldn't run as anything other than a woman," she said.

Her answer drew a challenge from former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who said he was the best advocate for women on the debate stage. "I have the strongest, boldest ideas," he said.

Posing a question that few, if any, of the candidates had fielded before, one voter asked whether women should register for the draft as do men. Ms. Clinton, Mr. Obama and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut said yes.

The debate featured questions submitted to the online video community YouTube and screened by the all-news cable TV network. A talking snowman, two rednecks and a woman speaking from her bathroom were among the odd, 21st-century twists to the oldest forum in politics - a debate.

When was the last time a presidential candidate was forced to promise to work at minimum wage? That is effectively what seemed to happen when a voter asked whether the candidates would serve four years at $5.85 an hour rather than the president's annual $400,000 salary.

"Sure," replied Ms. Clinton.

Mr. Obama said the group could afford to do so. When Mr. Dodd started to protest, Mr. Obama cut him off with a joke, "You're doing OK, Chris."

The gathering was held at the military college of The Citadel in South Carolina, site of one of the earliest primaries - Jan. 29.