DES MOINES - The Democratic presidential contenders courted urban liberals and racial minorities at two forums in Des Moines yesterday at which they vowed to help empower Americans.
The rivals had to struggle with a snow and ice storm that scrambled a marathon campaign day.
Pressed to explain how he would deal with economic disparities facing minorities, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois touted his plan for middle-class tax breaks that he said would bring back economic hope. "The dream that so many generations fought for feels like it's slipping away, that's being lost not just for African-Americans but for all Americans," he said.
The tenor of both forums was restrained, though Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut pressed rival John Edwards of North Carolina to explain why he voted for a bankruptcy reform bill several years ago when Edwards also was in the Senate.
"I was wrong and you were right, Chris," said Edwards, maintaining later that "it is the cause of my life to do something about 37 million people who live in poverty."
Five Democratic rivals opened the day at a meeting with community organizers from Iowa and other states, then seven attended a forum before Latino and African-American activists.
Senator Hillary Clinton of New York was forced by the weather to telephone in for the first forum, and Senator Joe Biden of Delaware arrived late for the second. Their travel plans were skewed because of a severe ice storm that hit several Midwest states, killing at least one person, disrupting travel, and closing the Des Moines airport.
Biden also weighed in on the immigration fight, saying it's time to stop pitting people against each other. "Look, that's what white boys have done for a long, long time, bang people against each other," he said. "Let's not let the established system play one against the other."
Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico was asked to explain the income disparities facing minorities, and he pointed to the high dropout rate they face and he called for more spending on education and preschool programs.