Presidential candidates answer: How will you help the hungry and poor?

by Vinnie Rotondaro

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A Christian group against poverty and hunger called Circle of Protection has asked U.S. presidential candidates a simple question: "What would you do as president to offer help and opportunity to hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world?" 

The group, representing over 100 Christian leaders, recently received its first batch of video responses. 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, sent in a general campaign ad titled "Making a Difference." The ad did not specifically address the Circle of Protection's question. Mother Jones slammed Bush for not cutting a direct response in a piece titled "Jeb Bush Stiffs Christian Group on Poverty Video."

In his video, Bush vows to increase opportunity in America. He says, "We need to start fixing things."

"I'm proud of the fact that many families now have the chance to live lives of purpose and meaning," he says. "You can improve the life of people, whether it's in the programs for the developmentally disabled, or changing our economy, or fixing our higher education system."

"What we need now is leadership that takes conservative principles and applies them so that people can rise up," he says.

Retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a Republican, argues in his video that society must once again develop the "mentality, the duty to take care of the hungry and those who are downtrodden in our society." 

But that duty isn't ultimately the government's responsibility, he says. "There are many who think that maybe the government should take care of everybody who's hungry. The government should take care of anybody who has a problem. I think the government can facilitate things, and can help business, industry, academia, Wall Street, churches, community groups combine their efforts ... that synergistic force can be powerful in eliminating all the woes of our nation today."

Similarly, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, says in his video that "poverty can be devastating" and argues it can be changed. "But it's going to be folks like us," he says, "not some program out of Washington that's going to do it. The heroes of the anti-poverty movement are you."

Cruz says "the plight of the poor is close to the heart of God" and rips on the war on poverty, calling it a "failure."

Former business executive Carly Fiorina, another Republican, spoke much of God in her video. "All of us truly are gifted by God," she says, "regardless of our circumstances. And so it's imperative that we take a chance on those who are living in desperate or disadvantaged circumstances, because we know their lives have potential as well."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, spoke in his video of "empowering" Americans.

In a slickly produced video, he is shown giving a speech: "I'm not a Republican because I grew up rich. I'm a Republican because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poor waiting for the government to rescue me."

"One thing that has to happen in America is moving the power away from Washington, where people are so disconnected," Huckabee says in his video. "It's a disaster."

Huckabee vows to protect Social Security and Medicare. He states: "Instead of fighting over the minimum wage, I'm going to focus on solutions to help every American earn his or her maximum wage."

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the lone Democrat respondent thus far, says in his video that America needs to address poverty in a "very bold and forceful way."

"It is not acceptable to me, nor should it be acceptable to any American that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth," he says, "that we have millions of families who are working longer hours for low wages."

Sanders says, "We need to stop the horrendous cuts coming from the Republican leadership, cuts that want to throw 27 million people off of health insurance, cuts which want to make it harder, significantly harder for young people to go college, [cuts in] nutrition programs that help feed hungry kids."

To combat poverty, we need "to create millions of decent paying jobs," he says. "We need to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour," we need to pay equity, to make college affordable "for all Americans," to address youth unemployment. 

"To my mind, what we need in this country, and what this campaign is about, is a fundamental change in national priorities," he says. "No more tax breaks for the richest people in this country. No more tax breaks for multinational corporations."

"Standing together, we can transform our economy, we can transform our political system," he says. 

According to Chris Ford of Bread for the World, a founding organization of Circle of Protection, more videos are on the way, including one from Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will release a video Wednesday, Ford said.

[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is]

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