Gravel Goes Nuclear at First Democratic Debate

Mike Gravel: Common Man on an Uncommon Run

ByABC News
April 20, 2007, 12:16 PM

April 27, 2007 — -- He's a former Democratic senator from a so-called red state making a bid for the White House on a left-of-center agenda. John Edwards? No, try again.

He's the oldest candidate in the 2008 field and fond of the moniker "maverick." Ah, it must be McCain. Nope. One more clue:

He's been an anti-war critic from the beginning, fueling his upstart campaign by speaking the language of power to the people. Obama? Sorry, wrong again.

He's Alaska's former two-term Democratic Sen. Mike Gravel (that's Grah-vel), 76 years old and longtime critic of Vietnam and now the Iraq War, and he's running for president.

And Thursday night at the first debate of the 2008 campaign season, Gravel hit a combative note in the Democratic field against his better-known presidential rivals.

Referencing Gravel's lesser-known status in the candidate pool, moderator Brian Williams of NBC News asked him frankly, "Why are you here tonight?"

Referring to the candidate pool sharing the stage -- including front-runners New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards -- Gravel said, "Some of these people frighten me! They frighten me!"

And with that, the senior statesman from Alaska went nuclear.

"When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there's nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that's code for using nukes, nuclear devices," he said. "[When] I'm president of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. To my mind, it's immoral, and it's been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy."

Gravel wasn't shy about calling out contenders by name, either.

Gravel also looped Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, into his criticism of the top-tier contenders.

"Joe, I'll include you," said Gravel, while criticizing the Delaware Democrat for pushing a plan to decentralize power in Iraq along ethnoreligious lines. "You have a certain arrogance. You want to -- you want to tell the Iraqis how to run their country."