Posted 2:00pm November 9
by Jane Black
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Young voters and Democratic presidential hopefuls stood face-to-face Tuesday night in Boston, as candidates answered questions ranging from marijuana use to positions on homosexuals serving in the military.
Over 500 college students from all over the county packed into Boston’s historic Fanueil Hall for a 90-minute forum aired live on CNN. Nicknamed “America Rocks the Vote,” the event was moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and sponsored by CNN and Rock the Vote.
“We wanted to do a debate that wasn’t business as usual,” said Julianna Evans, a senior spokeswoman for CNN. “We needed a way for the candidates to show young voters who they really are, not give rehearsed speeches on health care or the environment.”
Many of the questions from students concerned domestic issues such as how the candidates would turn around the economy and the rising costs of education.
“This event put the burden on the candidates to start addressing issues of concern to a new generation of voters,” said Ara Khachatourian, a campaign director for Rock the Vote, a non-partisan organization that coordinates voter registration drives.
A more controversial part of the night took place when Cooper asked former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to explain a comment he made earlier this week that he wanted to be the candidate for “guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.”
“… I think we need to talk to white Southern workers about how they vote, because when white people and black people and brown people vote together in this country, that’s the only time that we make social progress, and they need to come back to the Democratic Party,” said Dean to the audience, in defense of his comment.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina both criticized Dean for not admitting his comment was wrong.
Dean, Edwards and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts all admitted to using marijuana in the past. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois declined to answer the question.
While in the past a presidential candidate has spoken with young voters, this was the first time that many candidates gathered in a forum with college students.
“A debate solely focused on appealing to the youth vote got students attuned to the issues,” said Jenni Lee, an intern for the John Kerry for President campaign and student from George Washington University. Lee watched the forum on television with other George Washington students.
While the majority of attending students were from Boston-area schools, young voters from all over the country were represented in the forum. Thousands of questions were also submitted via the Internet and wireless electronic devices.
Of the nine Democratic candidates only Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri did not attend, instead campaigning in Iowa.