Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Surrogates spar at forum

Health care, Iraq top issues at Oseh Shalom event featuring representatives from six presidential campaigns

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Bryan Haynes⁄The Gazette
Barack Obama supporter Paquita Wiggins (right) of Beltsville talks to Rebecca Sheehan of Laurel about why she had considered Obama for president during Sunday’s candidates forum at Oseh Shalom in Laurel.
Kathy Affeldt drove 30 miles to Oseh Shalom synagogue Jan. 27, to show her support for her favorite presidential candidate, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

‘‘It is time for a woman—but her in particular—to be president,” said Affeldt, a member of the Howard County Democratic Club, at the synagogue located outside of Laurel city limits. ‘‘I just wanted to show that I support her...because if you don’t have the courage of your convictions, why bother?”

The event drew a crowd of several hundred rapt listeners, many of whom, like Affeldt and State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park, affixed Clinton stickers to their lapels or wore T-shirts showing their support for the senator.

The event’s six speakers were representatives from the top three Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns of the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. The Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Mike Huckabee camps had two minutes to answer questions on the Middle East, the economy and health care posed by the event’s emcee, College Park City Councilman Mark Cook (Dist. 3).

The representatives from the Democratic campaigns reiterated their candidate’s message of troop withdrawal from Iraq and diplomacy with Iran.

‘‘Under Edwards’ plan, he will immediately withdraw 40 to 50 troops,” said Scott Sokol, co-chairman of the group Baltimore County⁄Baltimore City for Edwards.

Douglas F. Gansler, Maryland Attorney General and Maryland State co-chairman of Obama for President, said Obama believed the money spent on the Iraq war could be better used at home.

Republican candidate representatives played up the success of the recent troop surge.

‘‘He supported the surge when no one else did,” said Jim Shalleck, director of the Maryland McCain campaign, of his candidate. ‘‘And it’s working. When will we withdraw? When the war is won.”

Louis Pope, co-chairman of Maryland Romney for President, said Romney did not agree with a timetable for troop pullout because it ‘‘tells the enemy when you’re leaving.”

Asked what specific measures their candidates would take to bolster the economy, Republican representatives said their candidates favored tax cuts with an emphasis on businesses, while Democratic representatives said their candidates wanted to give tax cuts to working families.

Del. Tony McConkey (R-Dist. 33A) of Severna Park said Huckabee would reduce interest rates and wanted to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service.

All the representatives agreed health care was in crisis.

Though in the interest of time event attendees were not permitted to ask questions during the forum, some just came to hear what the campaign representatives had to say.

‘‘I came here to listen, basically,” said Phil Victor, an Oseh Shalom congregation member. ‘‘It’s still a toss-up between Obama and Clinton. I wouldn’t have a problem with either one.”

E-mail Anath Hartmann at