Welcome to yet another installment of HuffPost's Debate LiveBlog Series — where we watch the debates and critique the candidates in real time. Tonight's debate, or "forum" it's being referred to, will be picked apart by HuffPost News Editor Katharine Zaleski and ever-present blog-roll member Lane Hudson. Katharine and Lane will be instant-messaging their comments to each other in real time, so it will be a fluid, chatty, declarative, and maybe even snarky two hours of commentary. And we're off...
KATHARINE: Hey Lane, welcome.
Let's get on the ISSUES. This is the first time the candidates have had a "LIVE" forum on Gay Issues. Should make for some honest moments.
There's some familiar voices moderating the forum. Looks like in your interview with moderator Jonathan Capehart this morning you asked some tough questions. And of course we have our own HuffPost blogger Margaret Carlson representing the ladies.
LANE: Hey Katharine! I'm looking forward to seeing how the Forum plays out. The main question for me is whether or not the panelists press the candidates on issues important to LGBT America or if we get the same canned responses that we've heard time and again.
While we're waiting for things to get rolling, I asked the Dodd campaign why Senator Dodd canceled his appearance at the forum. Below is the release they put out today.
MANCHESTER, NH - Today, Presidential Candidate Chris Dodd released the following statement on the GLBT Forum sponsored by LOGO and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC):
"I am sorry that I cannot attend today's forum - the GLBT community is a very important voice in our national discourse. While I am unable to attend this forum, today's discussion represents an important and historic step for the nation because addressing equal rights and responsibilities for the GLBT community is fundamental to fulfilling America's promise. The process of building a more just society begins with ending discrimination in our laws, our workplaces and our armed services.
"While I will not be able to attend the debate in person, I will post my responses to the questions posed in tonight's debate on my website www.chrisdodd.com."
I think it is worth noting that the release is from New Hampshire. His press person said that they had events there that couldn't be canceled. Personally, I think he is using the absence of all other candidates to dominate the press there today.
KATHARINE: And Mr. Biden....surely he can't be in NH?
LANE: I was on Michelangelo Signorile's show yesterday and he surmised that Senator Biden's book tour has gotten in the way of discussing issues important to LGBT people. I guess the money is more important.
KATHARINE: I hope it's enough money. People want to hear what these candidates have to say on gay-rights. We've had to listen to George Bush's position on them for the last couple of years.
LANE: I would have gotten a statement from the Biden campaign, but I'm not aware of an internet outreach staffer on his campaign. So, all we have to go from is Signorile's guess on what he is doing.
LANE: I don't think stifling conversation on Mary Cheney counts for discussing gay issues in the Republican Party. So, it starts!
KATHARINE: Yay Margaret. Wow and Melissa Etheridge!
LANE: Yeah....I'm waiting to see if she can be a credible panelist. Great singer! But, I'm still not convinced she should be there right now. So, Barack is the first up!
KATHARINE: Yes, tight room. Much smaller than the other forums/debates.
LANE: Do they call that a live audience?? Oh my. It looks like there are 20 people there.
KATHARINE:Melissa starts out asking Obama, "So you are a rock star?" That's a warm welcome. It's like a VH1 acoustic session.
LANE: Barack says the government must treat all people equally. Let's see how he justifies his opposition to equal rights for everyone. And he says it's historic for America. Let's see how his rhetoric shakes out with his answers to the questions. Good start, Joe....bust out the religion question. Barack says the government must treat all people equally. Let's see how he justifies his opposition to equal rights for everyone. BTW, Barack's little HRC pin is sideways. It is supposed to be an equals sign.
KATHARINE: Hah. Good eyes.
LANE: So far, he is saying what Hillary is saying. But he didn't mention whether or not he would repeal all of DOMA.
KATHARINE: I've heard Barack refer to his own experiences a couple times on this issue. The key tonight will be to see how the candidates differentiate themselves.
LANE: It's about more than getting the federal rights, it is also about making unions portable from state to state.
KATHARINE: So far, as you point out. That hasn't happened.But it's minute six!
LANE: Good question by Joe Solmonese about Barack sounding like he favors 'separate but equal'.
KATHARINE: Here he goes again -- referring to his experience. You think that works?
LANE: It sounds good, but he's holding back by acting like he really supports equal rights. But, Margaret Carlson is pressing him on it.
KATHARINE: Definitely. Hah ha Melissa just pointed out who the REAL rock star is in the room: her!
LANE: Actually, he might have gone farther than Hillary. Sounds like he's in favor of Federal Civil Unions. She's only in favor of repealing part of DOMA.
KATHARINE: Whooo -- Melissa just practically asked him to clarify his campaign theme, "What are you going to do to unite this country back together?"
LANE: Fluff question... after all of that talk of how she's honored to be there. This is what I didn't want to hear. Obama talks about changing Washington, and hope this and that. He needs to at least acknowledge how difficult it will be to change the culture of Washington. It sounds good, but it's not so practical. Oh my... Melissa is using this as a way to lobby the candidates. "Be brave Barack!" That is lame.
LANE: I hope someone asks him about his "Frat Boy Moment" which I blogged about here at HuffPost.
Jonathan Capehart is getting to some tough ground here. Homophobia is alive and well in the African American Community.
KATHARINE: You're right, this is getting tougher. I'm also glad that John asked him how he can seem so "old school" by opposing same-sex marriage when he is positioning himself as the candidate of change.
LANE: He sidestepped being a leader in the African American Community on gay rights. You're totally right.
KATHARINE: Thanks! Margaret just asked him if he would compare the civil rights movement to the struggle for gay rights. But I thought Obama made that comparison himself only ten minutes ago. Am I wrong?
LANE: That is a valid question. I actually read at least once a year, Martin Luther King's "Why We Can't Wait" as inspiration for all kinds of work that I do. Because African Americans are very slowly endorsing full equality for LGBT people. All of the arguments that MLK makes in that book are valid arguments for equality for LGBT America.
KATHARINE: Nice ending. Very strong. He's really cementing gay rights issues as a major theme of his campaign. "political courage" -- That's a legitimate way to brand this. These issues take courage.
LANE: Now we're on to John Edwards.
KATHARINE: Yeah -- this should be interesting. Considering he's having his own debate about Gay Marriage at home.
LANE: Let's see if he uses religion as an excuse from governmental recognition of relationships.
KATHARINE: Elizabeth Edwards is for it. And he says he's "struggled" with it.
LANE: Yes, but Elizabeth being there on our issues isn't an excuse for him not being there.
KATHARINE: Yes, yes, very right.
LANE: John is great at telling stories. I hope he doesn't expect to substitute a good story for not being for equality for all Americans.
KATHARINE: He's not answering the QUESTION. The question was about equal health benefits to gay couples.
LANE: This is why Melissa Etheridge shouldn't be on the panel.
KATHARINE: Yeah she accused Edwards of being "uncomfortable" around gay people And he just told her he "never" said that... a consultant did.
LANE: That was in Bob Shrum's book. That's where it came from. Backstory on that is that when he was first running for Senate, he may have said something like that. Long time ago and I don't think we should keep bringing that up. And Jonathan Capehart breaks out another tough question about Republicans using gays as whipping posts to scare Red America into voting against Democrats.
KATHARINE: Okay he's getting tough here. Just said it's important to fight against GOP hate-mongering. Well I'm glad Edward's brought Ann Coulter into this....He just associated her with the entire right wing.
LANE: Will he actually? Didn't exactly in 2004, but perhaps it was because the Kerry Campaign wasn't willing to do it. How can we know? Yes, she's a hateful, well, you know. I won't stoop to her level.
KATHARINE: Well, Elizabeth stood up to her. But he's been somewhat mum.
LANE: Or Bill O'Reilly's level either!
KATHARINE: hah. Okay, Glad Margaret just asked if he would take on Ann Coulter.
LANE: He should really take her on here, but he's going to softball it. Yep, a nice way of rebuffing Ann Coulter. Not exactly meeting fire with fire.
KATHARINE: He totally did go softball. He let Elizabeth take the heat again on it.
LANE: Here's the first transgender question. I wondered if they were really going there. Tough, tough question. This might be history, the sole fact that the question is being asked. This is BIG. Edward just changed his position and said he was wrong when he used religion as an excuse to say he's not for marriage equality.
KATHARINE: Did he just back away on his statement opposing same sex marriage? Hah -- we're on the same page. And he brought himself toe to toe with Obama. He just differentiated himself from Obama on gay marriage.
LANE: Good question by Joe, but it looks like Edwards is backtracking a bit. BUT, he just said we should get rid of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. That is HUGE. Big difference from Hillary and Barack.
KATHARINE: These are strong moves for Edwards. Clearly trying to break himself away from the pack.
LANE: First question on Don't Ask Don't Tell. The issue here is that the specialized forces have a higher rate of LGBT people. We've dismissed some of the most talented people in the Military under DADT. But, all of the Dems agree on repealing that.
LANE: Only difference is that NONE of the Senators running for President have signed onto OR introduced legislation to actually repeal it. So, it's convenient to say that, but they're not doing it. Good ending for Edwards.
KATHARINE: He managed to tie it up -- like Barack -- with his campaign theme. Included Gays, Lesbians, Transgenders into his "Two Americas." Nice. Kucinich -- woot, woot. He's taking it the crowd. Wonder if he'll start a texting program on this? Okay -- "Why do you support same sex marriage." Good question to start with BUT Kucinich is getting CHEESY. He's talking about a "heart with an equal sign." Nice imagery, but no substance.
Okay -- he's saying he wants to effect change. That's bold since Edwards and Obama -- aside from saying they would repeal "don't ask don't tell."
Haven't done much to shake the status-quo on gay rights. Great. Melissa is really unbiased: "I hope you keep running." I know who she's going to vote for.
LANE: Good rhetoric here about how when each of us take a stand, it helps others do it too. If only he wasn't a fringe candidate, then he would really affect the top tier in their views!
REALLY lame comment form Melissa about him continuing to run for President. And...holy cow. It took him five campaigns to get elected to Congress?
Did she really just ask about Medical Marijuana? She just admitted on national television that she smokes pot. Granted, it's for her cancer treatments, but still, not something you usually say.
Well -- we now know that she enjoys certain contraband
I have to admit that his health care ideas appeal to me. Anyone who needs health care for any reason should ALWAYS have access to it. Non-profit health-care is the only way to get there.
KATHARINE: I agree. It's also the same theme that runs through all these debates. Remember two nights ago at the AFL-CIO debate? the most poignant question wasn't from a former union member who couldn't afford medical care for his ailing wife.
LANE: Did Joe just ask about how Kucinich could help get the Employment Non-discrimination Act passed? Allow me to digress for a moment, but the Human Rights Campaign has taken full responsibility for gathering the votes on this. I know because I have asked the Leadership.
KATHARINE: Come on. A little lobbying on live TV... no harm in that! Wow - big moment of silence there. I thought my TV was broken. And he just brought the "love of his life" Elizabeth into this.
LANE: We all did. Is this really live??
Have you seen his wife? I heard he found her on a television show of women who wanted to marry him.
She's about two feet taller than him with long, red hair.
Kucinich is done.
KATHARINE: She's pretty hot. Here's a picture of her. He says they like to eat vegan and stay in bed until 11 on Sundays.
LANE: And who do we have next?
KATHARINE: Mike Gravel! Clinton and Richardson.
KATHARINE: Okay - breather is over. We're back on for the next installment.
LANE: Hell yeah, it's all of our's favorite crazy Uncle, Senator Mike Gravel. This should be interesting. You gotta love the old guy.
KATHARINE: Gravel supported Everything in the HRC questionaire. Melissa is giving him the star treatment again.
LANE: Yep... I think he just checked all of the boxes.
KATHARINE: I thought She was the "real rockstar."
LANE: She is wearing a pants suit. Rock stars don't do that. Does he think gays just live in NY and San Francisco? He forgot to thank me for starting the blog lobbying to get him on this program!!
KATHARINE: Do many live in Alaska? (I hope I don't get in trouble for that question.) Cool -- Melissa, just asked my question. So I'm exonerated.
LANE: Gravel actually gets great ideas through here and there. At least when he's talking about how the system is broken, anyway.
KATHARINE: Okay -- good. He's starting to wag the finger.
LANE: You know, I've never thought about the fact that the institution of marriage preceded organized religion. Very interesting observation.
KATHARINE: Is this weird that he's copying Kucinich's Looove Lines? Well -- that's the tack that Obama, Edwards and Hillary are on.
LANE: Although, the people I'm with keep laughing every time he refers to "the gays." I guess he's not aware of lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender folks.
KATHARINE: Great -- Gravel just laid it out. HE said he doesn't want the "safe" votes that Hillary, Barack and Edwards are aiming for on gay rights.
LANE: Like I said, you've got to love the guy! "A good politician can tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip."
KATHARINE: So it's Gravel and Kucinich vs Edwards and Obama so far.
LANE: Yeah, but that's no surprise. It is kind of refreshing seeing, as Melissa might say, someone of HIS generation saying the kinds of things he does to advocate equality. Though he's got no chance of winning, it does help advance the debate, which I appreciate.
Yeah, but that's no surprise. It is kind of refreshing seeing, as Melissa might say, someone of HIS generation saying the kinds of things he does to advocate equality.
Though he's got no chance of winning, it does help advance the debate, which I appreciate.
I wonder if Joe Solmonese knew that he would have a decent answer to "what are you proudest of that you've done to help gays and lesbians?"
KATHARINE: Well, as he just alluded too, he could have started that ball rolling 26 years ago. But he stopped serving in senate.
LANE: Did he just call himself "Kooky Gravel???"
KATHARINE: He did! I guess, it's an open secret that he's a little "different" from the rest of the kids.
LANE: Holy Cow. I didn't know that in 8 urban cities, that nearly 50% of African American men are HIV positive. That's an major public health issue that demands attention.
KATHARINE: Amazing. That is a very frightening statistic. Okay -- different angle now...Gravel just said, "I ain't see no reason between marijuana and booze."
Gravel wants Marijuana stores? Am I smoking something?????
LANE: Well, at least Melissa would have somewhere to go for it...
I gotta admit, he is certainly a little kooky now and then, but I kinda like him. He just spent his closing comments trying to empower gays in and out of the closet. Just like a sweet grandpa.
KATHARINE: "Come out of the closet please." Great line...Mr. Compassion.
LANE: And we're on to Governor Richardson. Let's see if he apologizes for his Spanish gay slur on the Don Imus show.
KATHARINE: Okay -- so he's with Gravel on believing that the "nation is on a path to inclusion." Nice, positive...not on the same level as wanting a marijuana store.
LANE: This whole "what is achievable" idea is an abdication of leadership. You can make things achievable by being a leader on the subject.
KATHARINE: Well, he's deferring to the "nation." Making them, US, responsible.
LANE: Okay, Richardson is kind of boring. But, at least he's engaged, which he just started doing at the AFL-CIO Debate. And Jonathan brings up the Spanish gay slur issue.
KATHARINE: He's getting to be a better debater for sure. Making much stronger contact with his audiences. And Richardson publicly apologizes to the public over a year later. About time. Though, I do have to give him credit for having a great record on gay rights.
LANE: He's not for equal marriage. Remember? He's for what is achievable and doesn't believe that is achievable? Joe just posed the tough question, that if the legislature passed marriage, would he sign it.
KATHARINE: And he deferred to the people again.
LANE: Now, he is avoiding the question. Will Joe hold him to answer it?
KATHARINE: Not the strongest leadership move.
LANE: He just said "in his heart, he is doing what is achievable and I'm not there yet." BIG setback for him on gay issues. He just was given a softball question and screwed it up.
LANE: NO HE DIDN'T!!!
KATHARINE: Richardson just told Melissa that Homosexuality is a CHOICE!!!!
LANE: He just said that homosexuality is a choice. What a freakin' moron! He just lost every semblance of gay support. It is OVER. Take him off the stage.
KATHARINE: And Melissa just asked him AGAIN...because she thought he didn't understand.
LANE: I'm done listening to him and so is the rest of LGBT America. DONE. If he didn't get it the first time, he doesn't need to hold the office of dog catcher.
KATHARINE: He should have gone to NH with Dodd.
LANE: Do you see how the people in the audience are reacting? This man doesn't get it.
Yep. He would have done better not even being here.
Melissa just asked about bark beatles... even SHE knows it's a lost cause at this point.
KATHARINE: You're so right -- She said it. You're done Man. Go back to handling BARK BEATLES.
LANE: and Margaret moves us away from bark beatles back to the discussion that he screwed up. One more chance... will he get it? NOPE... why haven't they kicked him off of the stage yet?
KATHARINE: I take back EVERYTHING I said about Richardson improving.
LANE: Rightly so. I think he must be drunk.
KATHARINE: Okay -- he knows he's a bad speaker. He just said to look at his record and not his speeches but Americans don't have time to look at his record. Okay -- here's Hillary. Let's reset.
LANE: Thank goodness they got him off the stage. Hillary is lucky to follow that performance!
KATHARINE: Better reception that Richardson -- but, that's not too tough! A mute dog would have been better. Okay -- they're bringing in Bill here. Would you repeal your "don't ask don't tell?"
LANE: And Joe isn't a lap dog. He's going right at why she isn't introducing the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
And her response is crap. She didn't have a chance to? And she's blaming Republicans? They can't prevent her from introducing a bill on something that she favors. And she continues to ramble saying it's one of her highest priorities... then why hasn't she introduced legislation to repeal it? Will Joe press her on it?
KATHARINE: Sorry, I had a bit of a keyboard malfunction.
KATHARINE: Damn okay I'm back
LANE: And she just said "this has not been a long term struggle yet". How long does she think we need to wait to be treated equally.
KATHARINE: Hopefully not another eight years from another administration.
LANE: Here is where her DOMA Dilemma comes up. Will they press her on it? If marriage is a State issue, then why does the Federal Government have about 1200 rights that go along with marriage? She's definitely not being honest with us. And she just said "this has not been a long term struggle yet". How long does she think we need to wait to be treated equally.
KATHARINE: She does blame quite a bit on Bush fearmongering. It's legit, but let's move forward.
LANE: Amen. And here comes Melissa's personal story....which is actually making tough questions to her.....asking her how she'll be different from the first Administration leaving gays behind. Hillary had a chance to move forward here, but says gays weren't thrown under the bus in the first Clinton Administration. Her old school answer is "we gave some gays jobs, so we were great on gay issues." That's the old way. The NEW way is to actually advocate equality in the law. Hillary is rambling again.
KATHARINE: And the new way is not to blame Newt Gingrich. That was a decade ago!
LANE: So far, her worst debate/forum appearance so far.
KATHARINE: "That is over" - not a good line to take. There will always be Republicans and therefor always someone for Hillary to blame a road-block on if she continues with this thinking.
LANE: Her appearance is utterly disappointing. Then she acts surprised when Margaret says that time is almost over.
LANE: Not an impressive answer to the whole General Pace comment about homosexuality being immoral either.
KATHARINE: She is super relaxed -- "joe blow, joe shmoe?" Well, I'm glad she said she wouldn't put a judge on the bench who is anti-gay.
LANE: She is too relaxed. She needs to be fighting for this support. After her appearance here, people who support her will have to work hard to justify it.
KATHARINE: Well let's see if she can come out on top with her closing lines
LANE: I'm waiting....
KATHARINE: She is certainly showing a high degree of warmth. I think it's a vast improvement to see her relaxed... but I do agree that she should be "fighting for support,"
KATHARINE: Okay, let's wrap up. Who did the best? Who sank?
LANE: Edwards was the clear winner in this setting. Without a doubt. Hillary walked in thinking she had this support sewn up, and I'm afraid her appearance tonight will severely damage that.
KATHARINE: I think she'll win support at least for appearing open to change. She talked a lot about the need for it . No one can argue that she hasn't been around the block
LANE: Obama wasn't exactly a rock star.
KATHARINE: You're right about Edwards. He set himself apart
LANE: Richardson was a total bomb. Gravel and Kucinich were all the way there, but political reality is that they probably won't be winning the nomination. Dodd and Biden have gotten more ink here than they deserve since they didn't even show up.
KATHARINE: Edwards managed to move forward from his CNN-YouTube debate answer on gay marriage that left a lot of people in the lurch.
LANE: Yes, Edwards showed movement on these issues. And he handled them well. That is why he is the clear winner here.
KATHARINE: Well...at least the Democrats (or most of them) actually went on the record. The Republicans won't even participate.The Dems made an important move towards Gay Rights by even participating in the debate. So I'll toast to that. What say you, Lane?
LANE: They are all lost causes anyway. The Republicans, I mean. I'm actually astonished at the difference between the candidates tonight. Richardson was awful. Obama was pretty blah. Hillary acted like she had it all wrapped up. And Edwards was the surprising one. Chalk up a win for Edwards. It was a great recovery from his answer in the You Tube debate.
KATHARINE: I'm with you that Edwards was good, but I think Hillary took the cake too. She had a super tough question from Melissa and she answered it with promises to make changes. Well, here's to hoping these issues keep getting churned around. Some of the candidates have much farther to go.