Unknown From Alaska Makes Waves At Debate

Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) during the South Carolina Democratic Party Presidential Primary Debate, 26 April 2007, at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. This is the Democrats first debate for the 2008 presidential election scheduled for 04 November 2008.

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Last night's Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina was "a surprisingly sedate and meandering affair," according to the New York Times, with the major candidates playing it safe and showing more unity than division.

But Mike Gravel isn't one of the major candidates.

Mike who? Mike Gravel, a 77-year-old former U.S. senator from Alaska and onetime New York City cabdriver, and the longest of long shots in the Democratic field.

Gravel provided what little excitement there was in the lackluster debate as he prodded and poked his better-known rivals and made some of the evening's most quotable statements.

Like his remark that Osama bin Laden was so pleased with the U.S invasion of Iraq that he must have been "rolling in his blankets." Or his comment that some of his fellow Democratic candidates "frighten me." Or his jab at Barack Obama for saying he'd leave all options open in confronting Iran on its nuclear program. "Tell me Barack," Gravel said, "who do you want to nuke?"

That sort of candor earned Gravel unexpectedly extensive, if not always flattering, coverage in the morning papers. The Times, in a stand-alone profile, called him "comic relief," and said, intentionally or not, he "left many audience members rolling in the aisles."

What's Next In Iraq Showdown?

They passed an historic bill setting a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, but congressional Democrats are unclear on what to do after President Bush delivers his promised veto.

The Los Angeles Times called Congress' passage of a $124 billion war spending bill that requires the president to begin removing American forces from Iraq by Oct. 1, "an act unparalleled since the Vietnam War."

But with a White House veto on the way, Democrats "acknowledge that the next steps in this evolving showdown between the White House and Congress are still unclear."

The New York Times reports "there is no consensus among the party's leadership on how to respond legislatively to the veto."

Despite the vitriol on both sides, the Washington Post reports bipartisan talks on a compromise have already begun, "and even Republicans acknowledge that Bush won't get the spending bill that he has demanded, one with no strings attached."

The Post says a provision setting political and diplomatic benchmarks for the Iraqi government has a good chance of surviving the negotiations, while the language setting a timetable for troop withdrawals will almost certainly be dropped.

A CBS News/New York Times poll shows the public is on the Democrats' side in this battle. Sixty-four percent favor setting a timetable for a U.S. troop pullout, and most think Congress, not the president, should have the final say on troop levels. A majority also think Congress should let the war funding go forward without timelines after Mr. Bush's veto.

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