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Clinton, Obama debate on trade, health care, Iraq war and negative campaign tactics

Clinton, Obama debate on trade, health care, Iraq war and negative campaign tactics

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama clashed over free trade, health care and the war in Iraq in a high stakes debate one week before key Democratic presidential primaries which could determine the fate of her struggling candidacy.
The tone was polite yet pointed, increasingly so as the 90-minute session wore on Tuesday night, a reflection of the stakes in a race in which Obama has won 11 straight primaries and caucuses and Clinton is in desperate need of a comeback.
The debate offered Clinton her last, best chance to slow Obama's drive toward the nomination. Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont hold primaries next Tuesday, with 370 delegates at shake.
Even some of Clinton's supporters concede she must win in both Ohio and Texas to keep her her bid alive to become the first female U.S. president.
On the Republican side, John McCain, the party's presumptive nominee,won an endorsement Tuesday from former Ohio Congressman Rob Portman, who is mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate. Portman called McCain a champion for fiscal responsibility, pro-growth policies and the military.
"No one is a more committed advocate for our men and women in uniform, and no one understands better the threats America faces," Portman, a former budget chief for President George W. Bush, said in a statement released by the McCain campaign. He later told The Associated Press he does not see himself as the Arizona senator's potential running mate.
Charges of negative campaign tactics were high on the program in the Democratic debate which was broadcast by the cable televisions station MSNBC.
Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, said Obama's campaign had recently sent out mass mailings with false information about her health care proposal, adding, "it is almost as though the health insurance companies and the Republicans wrote it."
When it was his turn to speak, Obama said Clinton's campaign has "constantly sent out negative attacks on us ... We haven't whined about it because I understand that's the nature of these campaigns."
Clinton also said as far as she knew her campaign had nothing to do with circulating a photograph of Obama, who is bidding to be the first black U.S. president, wearing a white turban and a wraparound white robe presented to him by elders in Wajir, in northeastern Kenya, his father's homeland.
"I take Senator Clinton at her word that she knew nothing about the photo," Obama said.
The two rivals, the only survivors of a grueling primary season, sat about a foot (30 centimeters) apart at a table on stage at Cleveland State University. It was the 20th debate of the campaign, 10 months to the day after the first.
The race was far different in April 2007, when Clinton was the front-runner by far. Now Obama holds that place, both in terms of contests and delegates won.
On the war, both candidates denounced President George W. Bush's record on Iraq, then restated long-held disagreements over which of them was more opposed.
Clinton said she and Obama had virtually identical voting records on the war since he came to the Senate in 2005.
The former first lady voted in 2002 to authorize the war, at a time when Obama was not yet in Congress. Asked whether she would like to have the vote back, she said, "Absolutely. I've said that many times."
Obama tried to use the issue to rebut charges that he is ill-prepared to become commander in chief.
"The fact is that Senator Clinton often says that she is ready on day one, but, in fact, she was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue," Obama said.
The five-year-old Iraq conflict is also emerging as a fault line in the general election, with McCain calling for the U.S. military continuing its mission while his Democratic opponents urge quick withdrawal.
The two Democratic rivals also debated the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico that is wildly unpopular with working-class voters whose support is critical in any Democratic primary in Ohio.
Neither one said they were ready to withdraw from the agreement, although both said they would use the threat of withdrawal to pressure Mexico to make changes.
"I have said I would renegotiate NAFTA," said Clinton. "I will say to Mexico that we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it."
Obama said Clinton has tried to have it both ways, touting the trade deal in farm states where it is popular while finding fault with it in places like Ohio.
"This is something I have been consistent about," said Obama, who said he went to the American Farm Bureau Federation to tout his opposition and used it as an issue in his 2004 Senate campaign.
"That conversation I had with the Farm Bureau, I was not ambivalent at all," said Obama.
Clinton also stumbled at one point as she tried to pronounce the name of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's first deputy prime minister, who is expected to win an election to succeed President Vladimir Putin on Sunday. "Whatever," she said after several attempts to demonstrate she knew his name.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama picked up the endorsement of a former campaign rival, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Obama and Clinton had been vying for Dodd's support since he exited the presidential race after a poor showing in the Iowa caucus last month.
"I think things have gotten a little hotter in the last couple of days," Obama said at a news conference where he collected Dodd's endorsement.
Tuesday's debate at Cleveland State University follows a four-day span in which Clinton accused Obama of distorting her record on trade and health care in mass mailings, then criticized him as ill-prepared to take charge of the nation's foreign policy.
McCain on Tuesday quickly denounced the comments of a conservative radio talk show host who while warming up a campaign crowd referred repeatedly to Barack Hussein Obama and suggested the Democrat was an unsavory politician.
Hussein is Obama's middle name, but talk show host Bill Cunningham used it three times as he addressed the crowd before the likely Republican nominee's appearance.
"I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them," McCain said. "My entire campaign I have treated Senator Obama and Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign."
McCain called both Democrats "honorable Americans" and said, "I want to dissociate myself with any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them."
False rumors about Obama having Islamic ties are circulating on the Internet and some opponents have used his middle name to try to link him with former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Obama currently has 1,372 delegates to Clinton's 1,274. A total of 2,025 are needed to secure the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in late August in Denver.
The Republican race is considered settled in favor of McCain, the veteran Arizona senator and a former Vietnam prisoner of war
He has a total of 1,013 of the 1,191 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at the Republican convention in September in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, trails with 257 delegates.
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Associated Press writers Mike Glover and Tom Raum in Cleveland and M.R. Kropko in Lorain contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-21 21:03 GMT+08:00