Biden: Dems wrong to skip debate

Joe Biden on Friday questioned how his Democratic presidential rivals could skip a debate involving the Congressional Black Caucus.

The Delaware senator, who will participate in a New Hampshire debate on Sunday, is one of two candidates signed onto a fall debate on Fox News and the sole person who has agreed to an Iraq-only debate next week.

In a telephone interview Friday, Biden called out fellow Democrats for bowing out of the Sept. 23 Detroit debate co-sponsored by Fox News Channel and the political education and leadership institute of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Democratic candidates have been under pressure to shun the debate from liberal groups who say Fox is biased against Democrats. Biden said Fox's role in the debate doesn't matter.

"I agreed to go because my friends in the Black Caucus said this is a very important debate to be able to determine the difference among us on matters relating to the African-American community," Biden said.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only other candidate who has agreed to the Fox debate.

John Edwards and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are not attending. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd said this week that they will not participate.

Earlier this year, Biden was criticized by some black leaders when he described Obama as "articulate" and "clean."

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton is getting some financial help from a controversial benefactor.

Vinod Gupta, chief executive of the data company, InfoUSA Inc., is helping throw a high-dollar fundraiser Thursday night in lower Manhattan, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Associated Press.

A lawsuit by company shareholders accuses Gupta of excessively spending millions of dollars, including $900,000 worth of travel on the Clintons. InfoUSA has paid former President Clinton, also scheduled to appear at the fundraiser, more than $2 million in consulting services.

Sen. Clinton told the AP on Wednesday that she followed Senate rules when she accepted rides on Gupta's jet. The campaign said they had no other comment on Gupta's involvement in the fundraiser.

The New York Times first reported on its Web site Friday that Gupta would serve as "vice chair" of the event, which means he has committed to raise $50,000 from ticket sales. The invitation says the hosts include Hollywood billionaire Ron Burkle and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, with entertainment by singer Christina Aguilera.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday pointed to a Minnesota hospital's labor-management relations as a model for the industry.

The Democratic presidential contender toured an orthopedics ward and spoke with a labor-management team working to improve the hospital's services and working environment.

Before heading to a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Minneapolis Club, Clinton created a buzz at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, where employees, patients and visitors gathered to see the New York senator.

"It's very exciting to me to see this actually happening," Clinton said, referring to union and management efforts to work together. "It has to happen. We have no alternative but to try to deal with these tough problems or we're going to continue to see hospitals closed and we're going to continue to see more uninsured people and we're going to continue to see a lot of people who don't get the care that they need. That's not America."

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Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama told union hotel and casino workers Friday that he was ready to walk their picket lines should current contract talks turn sour.

"I have already bought my suntan lotion," Obama said, prompting members of the Culinary Workers Union members to rise to their feet. "I'm prepared. I'm equipped. I'm ready to walk, I'm ready to walk. I'm ready."

The 60,000-member union is locked in contract negotiations with its major employers, MGM Mirage Inc. and Harrah's Entertainment Inc. The union is expected to be a key organizing force in the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses, and its endorsement is highly sought.

On Friday, the second day of a campaign swing, Obama railed against increasing executive pay and said companies were leaving U.S. workers out of their success. He also voiced his objections to the immigration bill in Congress.

He said he opposes provisions governing a temporary worker program in part because the program would create a class of workers unable to unionize. The Illinois senator also said he hoped to change provisions in the bill that create a point system for immigrants entering the country based in part on education and job skills.

"The people who came through Ellis Island — nobody was testing them to see if, you know, they were Ph.D.s in physics," he said, arguing the system would undermine the current family reunification-based system and favor immigrants from wealthier countries.

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The Republican Party is advertising on New Hampshire radio airwaves this weekend to pressure Democratic presidential candidates in town for a Sunday night debate.

The Republican National Committee ad features New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a retired Marine who fought in the Persian Gulf War, criticizing the leading Democratic candidates for opposing a war spending bill. "Is politics more important than our troops in harm's way?" Baldasaro asks in the spot.

Under pressure from liberal Democrats, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois voted against a measure that would continue funding military operations in Iraq because it did not include a troop withdrawal timeline.

The 60-second ad singled out Clinton and Obama, along with 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, who also opposed the measure.

The ad was scheduled to air on radio stations in Boston and Manchester, N.H. The RNC refused to say how much the airtime cost.

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Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards misspoke when he said he read a National Intelligence Report before authorizing the war in Iraq, his campaign said.

Edwards did not read the classified report that contained doubts about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, his spokesman said, even though it was available to him at the time when he was a North Carolina senator serving on the Intelligence Committee.

Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz said Edwards had read the declassified summary report before voting to authorize the war, but not the full version.

However, when asked Wednesday whether he read the confidential report, Edwards told employees at Google, "I read it."

Schultz said Friday that Edwards "simply misunderstood the question."

"As Senator Edwards has said many times before, he read the declassified version of the NIE, as well as other intelligence documents which were ultimately summarized in the classified version of the NIE," Schultz said.

Edwards' chief rival, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, acknowledged this week that she also did not read the full report before voting to authorize the war.

During a stop in Utah Friday, Edwards said the state will be tough for Democrats to win in the general election, but will play a role in selecting the party's nominee.

Utah is among more than a dozen states, led by delegate-rich New York, California and New Jersey, that have moved their primaries to Feb. 5.

"I think we will have largely chosen the Democratic nominee by Feb. 5, and voters in Utah are going to have a say," Edwards said.

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Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday that Mexico's new President Felipe Calderon will help the United States protect its southern border.

"He is committed to enforcing the border, he is committed to cleaning up some of the corruption down there," McCain said during an event in downtown Des Moines. "I'm optimistic that we'll get a lot more cooperation in the future out of the Mexican government."

However, McCain acknowledged he wonders just how much can be done.

"Has the corruption and the drugs become so bad that any government in Mexico can control it?" he said. "I have to believe they can, but it's going to be very, very tough."

The timing of his praise for Calderon, who is gaining popularity in Mexico as he battles drug cartels, comes as lawmakers in Washington sort out new legislation on illegal immigration.

McCain has been criticized by some fellow Republicans for supporting President Bush's immigration plan, which they argue offers amnesty to illegal immigrants. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have questioned the proposal, but the Arizona senator defends the measure.

"There's room for additional compromise," he said, "but I think the principles … are there." said.

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Associated Press Writers Nedra Pickler in Washington, Kathleen Hennessey in Las Vegas, Martiga Lohn in Minneapolis, Paul Foy in Salt Lake City and Amy Lorentzen in Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report.

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