Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton refused Saturday to forsake campaign donations from lobbyists, turning aside challenges from her two main rivals.
"A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans, they actually do," Clinton said, drawing boos and hisses from liberal bloggers at the second Yearly Kos convention, inspired by the popular liberal Web site Daily Kos.
Despite their own infatuations with special interest money, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois put Clinton on the spot in a debate that featured seven of the eight major Democratic presidential candidates fielding questions from a crowd of 1,500 bloggers, most of them liberal.
The candidates were put on the spot from the start.
The first question went to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was asked why he once cited Justice Byron White, a conservative, as a model Supreme Court justice. "I screwed up on that," he replied.
Clinton was asked what three lessons she learned from her failed health care reform effort during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton. "It is not enough to have a plan. You've got to have a political strategy," the New York senator said.
All seven candidates fought for the support of the liberal blogosphere by promising universal health care, aggressive government spending and dramatic change from the Bush era.
Edwards received the loudest applause when he suggested his rivals were tinkering around the edges rather than overhauling government. He said the nation needs "big change, not small change."
He called on the field to join him in refusing donations from lobbyists.
Clinton, who accepts such donations, did not respond to Edwards until much later in the forum when the question was put to her. The bloggers booed and hissed when Clinton insisted that nobody would believe that she could be influenced by lobbyists' money. So would she continue to accept those donations?
"Yes, I will," she said, arguing that plenty of lobbyists represent good causes. "They represent nurses, they represent social workers, they represent, yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people."
Obama rejected that argument, saying Clinton should know better because special-interest money helped sink her health care package in 1993.
While they don't accept money directly from lobbyists, Edwards and Obama are not above benefiting from the lobbying community. Both accept money from firms that have lobbying operations. Obama, a former state senator from Illinois, has long accepted money from state lobbyists.
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware was the only Democratic candidate not to appear.