WASHINGTON The 2008 Democratic White House contenders broke no new ground on issues like Iraq and health care during an online forum on Thursday, but the format did.
In an event dubbed the first presidential "mash-up," the candidates answered questions in Web videos that were cut and posted online so users could directly compare some responses and skip others.
The forum, sponsored by Yahoo Inc, the Huffington Post and the Web magazine Slate, was held on Yahoo's main news site.
Quizzed on Wednesday via satellite by PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose, the candidates appeared before plain black backgrounds to discuss the topics of Iraq, health care and education.
They also got a wild card question from HBO talk-show host and comedian Bill Maher, who was more successful drawing laughs from candidates than knocking them off their talking points.
Pointing out Hillary Clinton's 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq based on misleading information on weapons of mass destruction from President George W. Bush's administration, Maher asked the New York senator: "Why should Americans vote for someone who can be fooled by George Bush?"
Clinton laughed long and hard before responding: "It was a little more complicated than that." She then offered her standard line about the vote.
"Had I known then what I know now, I would never have given the authority," she said.
Maher questioned New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson about his opinion of voters, asking, "Do you ever, on the real now, feel that we are spoiled brats who can't take the truth and have to be lied to?"
Not surprisingly, Richardson did not think so. "My answer to that is thank God for voters."
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio pulled out a copy of the U.S. Constitution and displayed it for the camera as he told Maher why an assassination attempt on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would violate U.S. law.
"You're looking at the only person who really understands what this document is about," Kucinich said.
The sponsors said the format was aimed at potential voters, particularly young people, who can be turned off by traditional debate formats that force viewers to sit through long discussions of issues they might not care about.
It was the latest step in the exploding use of online tools in political campaigns, from Web videos to social networks, as the candidates gear up for the November 2008 presidential election.
The forum also allowed viewers to vote for their favorite candidate through the end of next week.
The Republican 2008 presidential contenders have been asked to participate in a similar session, although they have not committed yet.