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Obama, Clinton in key debate

Latest update : 2008-02-01

Democratic contenders Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton faced off in their last televised debate ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries. Republican Senator John McCain meanwhile won California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's crucial support.

LOS ANGELES, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Democrats Barack Obama and
Hillary Clinton struck a cordial tone in their first one-on-one
presidential debate on Thursday, directing their attacks at
Republican front-runner John McCain while disagreeing on who
could best lead U.S. troops out of Iraq.


The two Democratic White House contenders dropped the angry
and confrontational approach of their last debate in South
Carolina, adopting a friendly tone and saying their
similarities were greater than their differences.


"I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this
campaign; I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this
campaign is over," said Obama, a 46-year-old Illinois senator
who would be the first black U.S. president.


Clinton, a 60-year-old New York senator who would be the
first woman U.S. president, said the Republican White House
contenders were offering "more of the same."


"Just by looking at us, you can tell we aren't more of the
same," she said at the debate at Los Angeles' Kodak Theatre.
"We will change our country."


The meeting was the final debate ahead of Tuesday's
Democratic nominating contests in 22 states, the biggest single
day of voting in U.S. presidential nominating history. Clinton
and Obama are in a tight battle for the right to represent
Democrats in November's presidential election.


They split the first four significant nominating contests,
with Obama winning Iowa and South Carolina and Clinton winning
New Hampshire and Nevada.


Both candidates leveled criticism at the 71-year-old
McCain, citing his comment U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for
100 years and his support for extending President George W.
Bush's tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 after voting against them at
the time.


"Somewhere along the line, the (McCain) Straight-Talk
Express lost some wheels and now he is in favor of extending
Bush tax cuts that went to some of the wealthiest Americans who
don't need them and we're not even asking for them," Obama
said.


Clinton, asked about the prospect of another term in the
White House for a Clinton after eight years of her husband and
12 years of a member of the Bush family, took aim at both
Bushes.


'CLEAN UP AFTER BUSH'


"It did take a Clinton to clean after the first Bush and I
think it might take another one to clean up after the second
Bush," she said.


It was the first debate since last week's fierce South
Carolina showdown, which featured harsh personal attacks
between the two senators that sparked a week of bitter
accusations by Obama, Clinton and Clinton's husband, former
President Bill Clinton.


But they eased off the attacks after Obama's South Carolina
win and clearly decided it was better to stay positive in
Thursday's debate.


Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, questioned her
2002 Senate vote to authorize the war in Iraq. He assailed
Clinton who has frequently said she had the experience to lead
from "day one" in the White House.


"Part of the argument that I'm making in this campaign is
that it is important to be right on day one," he said.


Both candidates pointed to health care as one of their
biggest policy differences. Clinton's plan requires all
Americans to have coverage, and she criticized Obama's plan
because it could leave up to 15 million people uninsured.


"You have to bite this bullet, you have to say 'Yes, we
will try to get to universal health care'," she said.


Obama said anyone who wanted health care could get it under
his plan, which would focus on bringing down costs.


Obama and Clinton also disagreed on whether illegal
immigrants should have the right to driver's licenses, with
Clinton opposing the idea. But Obama noted Clinton's difficulty
in forming a position after a debate in October when she dodged
the issue several times.


"Sen. Clinton gave a number of different answers over the
course of six weeks on this issue, and that did appear
political," Obama said.


The debate was their first since Obama crushed Clinton and
John Edwards in a South Carolina landslide on Saturday, driving
Edwards from the race. Both Clinton and Obama praised Edwards
in their opening statements.


Earlier on Thursday, popular California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger endorsed Republican presidential candidate John
McCain, giving the Arizona senator a boost in his drive to gain
his party's nomination for the White House.


"He is a great American hero and an extraordinary leader.
This is why I am endorsing him to be our next president of the
United States," the actor-turned-politician said.


California is the largest prize among the states that hold
nominating contests on "Super Tuesday." McCain, the Republican
front-runner, already leads state polls over former
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.


Obama reported he raised $32 million in the month of
January alone, matching his biggest three-month fundraising
haul of the year and helping him pay for new ads in a
half-dozen states that hold contests after "Super
Tuesday."

Date created : 2008-02-01

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