Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama asked young voters concerned about America's place in the world to judge him on his record of standing against the Iraq war and on a multicultural background that helps him "see through the eyes of other people."
Obama declared Saturday that his contest with Hillary Rodham Clinton is not about the race or the sex of the candidates. If it were just about his race, he said, "I wouldn't have to answer questions. I could just show up."
But the son of a Kenyan father and mother from Kansas said his background helps him understand foreign affairs, and noted his schooldays in Muslim Indonesia. "I have a sense of that culture," he said of the Islamic world. "I can speak with the knowledge of someone who knows what those countries are going through."
However, he also emphasized that he is a Christian and criticized efforts — largely in an anonymous e-mail campaign — to characterize him as a Muslim.
Obama addressed a youth-oriented audience by satellite, one of four candidates who agreed to participate in the forum sponsored by MTV, The Associated Press and MySpace. Clinton also agreed to take part from Tucson, Ariz., but was running late for her appearance.
Huckabee gets the 'God questions'
Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, opening the forum, complained that he always gets "the God questions" when he'd rather be talking about public policy, and denied there's any conflict between his faith and the right things to do as president.
The former Baptist preacher was asked almost right off if he would be capable of making decisions in the Oval Office that might be at odds with his religion.
"There's not this glaring conflict," he said. "Faith helps me to understand what is right."
Religious conservatives have provided much of Huckabee's support and he's not been shy about courting them, an effort that continues in the last stretch before the more than 20 presidential nomination contests across the country Tuesday.
"I always get asked the God questions," he said, adding that "it's really been frustrating" that people don't want to know more about his work as Arkansas governor.
Paul on Africa, social problems
Paul told the forum he opposed U.S. intervention in Sudan's Darfur region and placed little faith in the ability of the United Nations to relieve the crisis there. He was asked what he'd do to stop the crisis from turning into a genocide on the scale of that experienced in Rwanda.
"I don't believe in using force in that manner," he said. "Under the Constitution, we're not allowed to do that."
He said he might support some interim aid, steered through international agencies, to address "these social problems in Africa." The U.N. estimates that 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since ethnic African rebels in Darfur took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination, in 2003
Huckabee spoke from Montgomery, Ala.; Paul from Victoria, Texas; and Obama from Minneapolis.