Time isn't on her side at MTV youth forum

Times Staff Writer

Memo to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: You can't be late for live television.

Clinton was tardy Saturday to a satellite feed from Tucson for a live broadcast of an MTV candidate forum -- forcing the surprised hosts to fill nearly 15 minutes with chatter and interviews with the studio audience.

The program, cosponsored with MySpace and the Associated Press, offered presidential contenders from both major parties a direct conduit to young voters days before Tuesday's historic slate of 24 primaries and caucuses.

Clinton eventually took part. Her Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, participated too, along with two Republicans, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

The GOP front-runners, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, declined to participate.

Clinton, the fourth candidate to appear, started her segment with an apology to MTV's young viewers, members of a demographic group that has been a large part of Obama's constituency.

"We had a lot of problems to get here," she said.

But people in the New York City studio audience, as well as those who submitted questions via e-mail and instant message, didn't show concerns about that.

Instead, they raised questions about issues facing the young, from the possibility of a military draft to the spiraling costs of college education.

They also pressed the candidates on jump-starting the faltering economy, on several areas of foreign relations and, for Clinton, on whether Taiwan should be admitted to the World Health Organization -- a diplomatically risky step that would probably anger the Republic of China.

"Every country in the world should be in the public health network that WHO represents," Clinton said.

"We saw when SARS and the bird flu was a problem, starting in Asia, how important it was to have a [health] surveillance system. It's not very sensible or wise to leave anybody out."

Obama was asked about how he deals with an e-mail campaign that falsely claims he was raised a Muslim and does not acknowledge the American flag.

Obama noted that McCain was subjected to a disinformation campaign in the 2000 campaign and described it as "how Washington often responds."

He also decried the effort as an attempt to smear followers of Islam.

"It is part of the politics of fear that I want to end," Obama said from Minneapolis.

"If we're going to be successful in solving things like climate change," the nation has to "not be torn apart or distracted by this kind of nonsense."

Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, was asked about what role his faith would play in the White House. "Faith is not in conflict with doing what is right," Huckabee said from Alabama before expressing frustration that in his view he alone among the candidates gets pressed on faith. "It ought to just give us a point of reference within our own conscience."

Paul, taking part from Texas, stressed his belief that the nation needs a wholesale change in its economic policies, and a step back from intervention in the affairs of other countries -- policies he said have led to the country's current economic problems.

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scott.martelle@latimes.com

For The Record Los Angeles Times Monday, February 04, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction China: An article in Sunday's Section A about an MTV political forum referred to the Republic of China. The country's formal name is the People's Republic of China.
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