Progressives Driving National Political Debate

WASHINGTON — Presidential candidates Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., brought more than 3,000 progressive activists from more than 40 states to their feet today at the fifth annual “Take Back America” conference. Each candidate made their case to the progressive base, pointing to issues ranging from opposing the war in Iraq to supporting bold action on clean energy, health care and economic policies.

“It’s no surprise that progressives are driving the national debate,” said Campaign for America’s Future co-director Robert Borosage. “With conservatives in disarray, Americans have turned against the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration. A majority of Americans stand with progressives on a range of kitchen table issues.”

Sen. Obama, delivering an impassioned speech, challenged the Democratic Party to push a progressive political agenda in the next election cycle. “It’s not just to change parties in this election,” said Sen. Obama. “If we hope to truly transform this country, we have to change our politics too.”

Challenging fellow presidential contenders to adopt a plan for health care for all, former Sen. Edwards laid out his “threshold test” for evaluating competing plans. “Is it universal?” former Sen. Edwards asked. “Does it really cover every man, woman and child in this country?” Edwards laid out a comprehensive health care plan early in the election cycle that raised the bar in the health care debate and has pushed candidates to release detailed plans for universal coverage.

Gov. Richardson focused on addressing “the two worst mistakes of the Bush administration” – the failure to address global warming and the failure to change course in Iraq. “If we can spend billions waging war in a country that never had weapons of mass destruction,” said Richardson, “Then we can certainly find the will to stop the mass destruction of our planet.”

After listening to the candidates, hundreds of conference participants traveled to Capitol Hill to rally support for the Employee Free Choice Act which the Senate is expected to vote on in the coming days. Later this evening, actor Jason Alexander, also known as “George Costanza” on Seinfeld, emceed the Campaign for America’s Future’s gala awards dinner honoring Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., civil rights leader Roger Wilkins and progressive bloggers.

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♦ NOTE: Video and transcripts of remarks delivered at the “Take Back America” conference are available at ♦