From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum and Carrie Dann
Thanks to scrambling by their campaign schedulers, almost all of the '08 hopefuls in the Senate managed to make appearances in key primary states despite Saturday's Iraq vote. Barack Obama managed a short morning rally with students in Orangeburg, SC, before returning to the Capitol, and Hillary Clinton held a town hall in Dover, NH. Joe Biden worked it into his address to a crowd in Iowa on Sunday: "When I flew back to Washington yesterday, we were precluded by four votes to be able to debate the issue and vote on it. There were still 56 senators who voted to condemn the President's escalation."
The only candidate conspicuously absent from the chamber on Saturday was McCain, who stuck with his planned trip to Iowa rather than go on record against what he called a "meaningless" resolution. In Chicago on Friday, McCain told reporters he's not afraid of skepticism for not voting: "It is a meaningless exercise on a meaningless situation, which is fraught with partisanship, and unfortunately deprives the Republican Party of their ability to have their views voted on this issue. I'm not only not worried, I'm glad to be spending time in Iowa, and discussing this important issue with the citizens of the great state of Iowa." At a campaign stop in Des Moines Saturday, he scoffed at "the issue being bloviated on the Senate floor."
McCain's decision not to vote drew a stinging responses from at least one potential rival. Democrat Tom Vilsack released a statement Saturday morning accusing McCain of "shirking his moral and constitutional duty" in favor of his presidential ambitions. Former Sen. John Edwards, asked about McCain's decision to not return for the vote, dodged the question and instead took the opportunity to bash McCain's opinions on Iraq: "I think Senator McCain is dead wrong about what we ought to be doing in Iraq."
Just as Senate debate on the Iraq resolution was commencing Saturday, the Clinton camp chimed in with a new Web video outlining the Senator's newly introduced "Iraq Troop Reduction and Protection" legislation. In the three-minute "Hillcast," Clinton describes the steps of her "roadmap out of Iraq," including her proposal to revoke congressional authorization for the war unless troop redeployment begins within 90 days. She also explains that the Iraq video is the "first of many" webcasts that will be posted "just about every week." Unlike the chatty online Q&A sessions posted after her exploratory announcement last month, the first "Hillcast" has a noticeably sober tone.
Other than Iraq, a second issue that was clearly on Obama's mind during his weekend stops in South Carolina was race. Responding to comments by South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford that a black candidate for the presidency would hurt the Democratic ticket, Obama painted his fight as a continuation of the civil rights battles of previous generations: "When somebody said 'Don't sit at the lunch counter, don't stir up trouble. We can't do that,' we did it!" His remarks prompted enthusiastic chants of "Yes We Can!" from crowds at the University of South Carolina on Friday night and from students at the historically black Claflin University on Saturday.