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Democratic debate unlikely to change political landscape favoring Obama

Democratic debate unlikely to change political landscape favoring Obama

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama entered the final week of campaigning in Ohio and Texas, must-win contests for the former first lady, after a mostly somber and policy-filled debate that seemed unlikely to shake up the presidential race.
In sometimes testy exchanges Tuesday night, the two sparred over health care, the war in Iraq and trade, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was negotiated in Clinton's husband's first term _ but is seen by labor and other critics as a chief culprit in the loss of manufacturing jobs in Ohio and other industrial Midwestern states.
Both candidates have called for renegotiating parts of the trade pact, but in different terms.
It was their final debate before next Tuesday's contests, which also include races in Vermont and Rhode Island, in which 370 delegates will be at stake.
Even some of Clinton's supporters concede she must win in both Ohio and Texas to keep her bid alive to become the first female U.S. president.
After the debate, Obama paid a late-night visit to unionized workers at a food distribution plant in nearby Medford Heights, Ohio. He was accompanied by Teamsters union President James P. Hoffa.
Both Democrats planned campaign events in Ohio on Wednesday, with Clinton ending her day in West Virginia and Obama moving on to Texas.
On the Republican side, John McCain, the party's presumptive nominee, won an endorsement 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.
Clinton needs big wins after 11 successive Obama primary and caucus victories since Feb. 5. Obama has been steadily gathering delegates to the party's national nominating convention in Denver.
The Illinois senator 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.
But it seemed unlikely the 90-minute debate at Cleveland State University would provide a lift to Clinton's campaign. Neither candidate seemed to knock the other off stride.
"I don't think the debate changes a lot. Both came across as strong in the ways they've always been seen as strong," said Wayne Fields, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies political rhetoric. Neither one managed to seriously erode the other's credibility.
The exchanges were sharper than their one-on-one debate a week ago in Texas, but not as sharp as their combative debate confrontation just before the South Carolina primary.
Tuesday's debate followed 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 U.S. foreign policy.
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 to continue its mission while his Democratic opponents urge quick withdrawal.
The two Democratic rivals also debated the NAFTA 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.
Clinton also stumbled at one point in the 90-minute debate 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.
Obama seemed to have an awkward moment when grilled about an endorsement from Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrahkan and remarks by his Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which have stirred controversy.
The Farrahkan remarks, and a photograph circulating on the Internet of Obama dressed in traditional local garments during a visit to Kenya in 2006, could further fuel a longtime buzz on the Internet suggesting that the Illinois senator, who is a Christian, is either secretly a Muslim or has Islamic sympathies.
Obama distanced himself from Farrakhan's comments, but he sidestepped a question on whether he would reject the endorsement, saying he had denounced Farrakhan in the past for anti-Semitic statements.
Clinton said rejecting support was different from denouncing it, noting she had "rejected" in her 2000 Senate race the support of a group with anti-Semitic views.
Obama drew laughter by saying, "I happily concede the point and I would reject and denounce."
McCain also did some denouncing when he criticized comments by 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 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."
Later, on his radio show, Cunningham expressed disappointment with McCain's apology and said he would endorse Clinton as a result.
"He just threw me under the bus to the national media," Cunningham said on local radio station WLW. "I've had it with McCain."
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.


Updated : 2021-05-06 21:20 GMT+08:00