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Democrats face off in high-stakes debate


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Monique Faulkner
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« on: January 16, 2008, 10:50:00 am »


Democrats face off in high-stakes debate

Story Highlights
Clinton, Obama vow to put campaign controversy over race behind them

Clinton, Edwards, Obama strike mostly cordial tone

Nevada Supreme Court ruled MSNBC could prevent Kucinich from participating

Nevada holds its Democratic caucuses Saturday

Next Article in Politics


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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AP) -- Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama blamed aides and campaign surrogates Tuesday night for fueling a campaign controversy over race, jointly pledging at a debate on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. to put the matter behind them.




Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards faced off in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday.

 Obama said "not only in hindsight, but going forward," he regretted that his staff had prodded reporters to pursue the issue.

"Our supporters, our staff, get overzealous. They start saying things that I would not say," added the most viable black candidate in history.

"We both have exuberant and sometimes uncontrollable supporters," Clinton said in the opening moments of a two-hour round-table debate televised on MSNBC. "We need to get this campaign where it should be," said the former first lady, seeking to become the first woman to occupy the White House.

She said comments by black businessman Robert Johnson over the weekend were inappropriate, but sidestepped when asked whether she would bar him from playing a role in her campaign. Johnson made an evident reference to Obama's youthful drug use -- although he denied that was his intent.

Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, the only white man among the candidates on stage, settled in for their debate as the former first lady won a meaningless Michigan presidential primary, a contest held in violation of party rules.

The debate unfolded four days before the party-sanctioned Nevada caucuses, and the tone was surprisingly cordial given the recent race-related controversy and the stakes involved in the wide-open race for the party's presidential nomination.

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Obama won the kickoff Iowa caucuses less than two weeks ago, and Clinton countered with an upset victory last Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary. Edwards is winless. After Nevada, the South Carolina Democratic primary is January 26, then the campaign explodes with nearly two dozen contests on February 5.

There was a political reason for the pleasantries, underscored when Edwards was asked whether he and Obama had teamed up to attack Clinton in a debate just before the New Hampshire primary.

"I don't think it was that way," he said. "My job as a candidate for president is to speak the truth as I see it."

Clinton won the primary in an upset three days after the debate, carried to victory over Obama by an unexpectedly large turnout by women voters.

At the same time, there were limits to the comraderie, and Clinton, in particular, took several opportunities to challenge her rivals.

Asked whether Edwards and Obama were prepared to sit in the White House, she said "that's what the voters have to decide."

Later, Clinton asked Obama to back her legislation to prevent President Bush from unilaterally extending the United States' presence in Iraq beyond the end of his term next January.

"I think we can work on this, Hillary," he replied.

On an issue of particular interest in Nevada, the former first lady stressed her opposition to a plan to develop a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in the state. She said Obama's campaign drew financial support from a company that favors the project, and in a rare campaign jab at Edwards, said he had twice voted for it.

Obama countered, saying that even though his home state of Illinois has more nuclear power plants than any other, his opposition to the controversial project was unequivocal.

Edwards said he had changed his mind on the issue, citing new scientific evidence about its risks.

Edwards, given a chance to question his rivals, pointed out the huge sums that Clinton and Obama have raised from drug and insurance companies. "Do you think these people expect something or are they just interested in good government?" he asked.

Obama quickly replied that he did not accept donations from federal lobbyists or political action committees, and Edwards just as quickly pointed out that applied to him as well.

The Michigan primary was an election in name only, where Clinton was the only major candidate entered. She faced competition principally from the "uncommitted" line on the ballot, an option that some supporters of Edwards and Obama advocated to embarrass her.

Returns from 75 percent of the state's precincts showed her with 57 percent of the vote, and uncommitted gaining about 38 percent.

Pre-caucus polls in Nevada make it a close race among the three, an event spiced by a lawsuit filed by several Clinton supporters hoping to challenge the ground rules.

Their objective was to prevent several caucuses along the Las Vegas Strip, where thousands of Culinary Workers Union employees -- many of them Hispanic or black -- hold jobs.

The rules were approved in May, when Clinton was the overwhelming national front-runner in the race. But the union voted to endorse Obama last week, and the lawsuit followed.

MSNBC televised the debate from the Cashman Center. Brian Williams and Tim Russert of NBC were the moderators.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich had hoped to have a seat at the table, but the Nevada Supreme Court ruled shortly before the debate began that MSNBC was legally entitled to prevent him from participating. It promptly did.


The Michigan primary was the first of two Democratic contests in which the DNC penalized state officials. Early voting began Monday for the January 29 Florida primary, where Obama's name is on the ballot but no campaigning is expected.

The disputes arose because national party officials wanted to allow only four states, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, to hold their contests before February 5. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/01/15/democrat.debate.ap/index.html
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