TRANSCRIPT: The Democratic Debate

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this special edition of "This Week." We're back here at Drake University in Iowa for the first Democratic presidential debate in Iowa. It's been sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. All of our guests here have been invited by the Iowa Democratic Party, and all eight Democratic candidates are here.

The podium order was determined by lot, but here's where they stand in Iowa, according to our latest ABC News poll.

At 27 percent, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. New York Senator Hillary Clinton is at 26 percent, as is former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, also at 26 percent. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is at 11 percent. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is at 2 percent, along with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, also at 2 percent. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd is at 1 percent. And former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, no support registered.

Candidates, welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not so bad, Senator Gravel. Maybe it'll go up after today.

I'm joined here in the questioning by David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register, and we want to cover a lot of ground today. We want to cover the economy, health care, education, and of course the war.

But let's start with the two questions that have really been dominating this race so far. I think Democrats across the country are struggling with these questions. It comes up in the dialogue between your campaigns.

And the first one is: Is Barack Obama ready to be president, experienced enough to be president?

And can Senator Clinton, Hillary Clinton, in part because of your experience, bring the country together and bring about the kind of change that all of you say the country needs?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, you stepped into this last week. You told Newsweek magazine that Senator Obama is "not yet ready" to be president.

Senator Clinton, is he right?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Well, George, I was going to say good morning...

(LAUGHTER)

... and, as soon as I wake up, I'll answer your question.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, I'm running on my own qualifications and experience. It's really up to the voters to make these decisions.

And I'm excited because I have a campaign that is growing in support, because we do need to make big changes. And I've set big goals for my presidency. I want to have universal health care and move toward energy independence and do what we need to do in education and reform our government, and, of course, end the war in Iraq.

So I think we have a great group of candidates. You don't have to be against anybody. This is a great problem to have. You can choose who you're for.

And I hope people will choose to be for me based on my experience, my qualifications and my plan for the future as to what I will do as president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Clinton, you did tell the Quad City Times that Senator Obama's views on meeting with foreign dictators are naive and irresponsible. Doesn't that imply that he's not ready for the office?

CLINTON: Well, George, we had a specific disagreement, because I do not think that a president should give away the bargaining chip of a personal meeting with any leader, unless you know what you're going to get out of that.

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