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Obama unscathed after Clinton debate

Latest update : 2008-02-22

Democrat Barack Obama escaped unscathed from a vital debate which foe Hillary Clinton hoped to use to slow his surging White House quest, ahead of the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4. (Report:A.Roy)

AUSTIN, Texas, Feb 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic
presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tried to raise doubts
about surging rival Barack Obama on Thursday but said in an
emotional debate finale that "whatever happens, we're going to
be fine."

Clinton, her political life on the line based on whether
she can win big victories in Texas and Ohio on March 4,
questioned Obama's readiness to become commander-in-chief, said
he has a weak resume and criticized him for borrowing rhetoric
for his uplifting campaign speeches.

But in a passionate concluding statement -- perhaps her
most emotional since she shed tears in New Hampshire in January
-- she made reference to her past political battles from her
husband's time in the White House, without detailing them.

Clinton, a New York senator, said she had "lived through
some crises and some challenging" moments in her life but that
they had been "nothing compared to what goes on every single
day in the lives of people across our country."

"Whatever happens, we're going to be fine," she said,
looking at Obama seated beside her. "We have strong support
from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be
able to say the same thing about the American people and that's
what this election should be about."

Obama appeared touched by her words and the two shook hands
warmly in the middle of her statement.


They went into the debate with different objectives.

Obama, an Illinois senator who would be the first black
president, wanted to protect his dominant position after 10
straight wins in the state-by-state nomination process.

Clinton, who would be the first woman president, wanted to
try to shake up the race for the Democratic nomination to face
the Republican Party's choice in November's election.

Whether she was successful was an open question.

In her toughest line of the night, she drew scattered boos
from some in the audience for ridiculing Obama for using
rhetoric in his speeches that had already been used by a
supporter, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

"If your candidacy is going to be about words, then they
should be your own words," she said. "And you know, lifting
whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you
can believe in, it's change you can Xerox."

Obama said the fuss over the lines he used from Patrick was
"silly season" politics.

Scolding Clinton, he said Democrats should not be "tearing
each other down" but rather "lifting the country up."

New Washington Post-ABC News opinion polls showed the two
hopefuls about even in Texas, with Clinton at 48 percent and
Obama at 47 percent, but Clinton leading Obama in Ohio by 50
percent to 43 percent.

Obama has a growing lead in pledged delegates who will
choose the Democratic candidate at the party's convention in

The latest count by MSNBC gives Obama 1,168 delegates to
Clinton's 1,018. The Democratic nominee will likely face Sen.
John McCain of Arizona, the Republican front-runner, in the
election to succeed President George W. Bush.


Clinton also tried to raise questions about her rival's
resume, pointing to a supporter's inability to list a single
Obama accomplishment when pressed to do so on Tuesday in an
MSNBC interview.

"So I know there are comparisons and contrasts to be drawn
between us," she said.

Obama defended his record testily, saying Clinton was
trying to suggest his supporters "were being duped" by him. He
said he had helped push the toughest ethics reform legislation
in the Senate since the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s.

"Senator Clinton has a fine record. So do I," he said.

As she has done often in recent days, Clinton questioned
whether Obama was ready to take the reins of power at a time of
global unrest.

Obama pointed to his opposition to the Iraq war, and
Clinton's 2003 vote in favor of a Senate resolution that
authorized the Iraq war, as an example of his judgment.

He said that on "the single most important foreign policy
decision" of the decade, "I believe I showed the judgment of a
commander in chief and I believe Senator Clinton was wrong in
her judgment on that."

Cuba, now that ailing Fidel Castro has stepped down,
featured prominently in the debate as the two candidates
courted Hispanics who could play an influential role in the
Texas vote.

Obama expressed a willingness to move quickly toward a
meeting with Castro's replacement, in line with his previous
commitment to hold direct talks with leaders of hostile
countries if he is elected president.

Clinton was more cautious, saying Cuba should first make
progress on long-standing U.S. complaints about the need to
improve human rights and release political prisoners.

Castro is expected to be replaced in power by his brother,
Raul Castro, 76.

Date created : 2008-02-22