Obama, Clinton spar in debate

Barack Obama listens to Hillary Clinton during Thursday night's debate in California.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, February 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 11:55 p.m.

LOS ANGELES - Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton sparred, for the most part cordially, over immigration, health care and the war in Iraq in their first one-on-one debate on Thursday as they faced high-stakes Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses that could go a long way toward determining the party's presidential nominee.

Clinton emphasized that the nation needed a president ready to go to work on "day one." Obama responded: "Senator Clinton, I think fairly, has claimed that she's got the experience on day one. And part of the argument that I'm making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on day one."

Just five days before Super Tuesday, the two alternated between addressing each other with civility and pointed swipes, underscoring the importance of the upcoming contests. The debate came on the day Obama's campaign reported raising a staggering $32 million in January, cash aplenty to advertise all through the nearly two dozen upcoming races from coast to coast - and contests beyond.

Clinton's campaign reported raising $26.8 million from October through December, the most recent period that she reported.

Both candidates were asked about the possibility of a "dream ticket'' of Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton.

"Obviously there's a big difference between those two," Obama said. "I respect Senator Clinton; I think her service to this country is extraordinary.'' But, he said, "We've got a lot more road to travel'' before such a decision.

Clinton agreed it was too early to discuss.

One of their most pointed exchanges came on the subject of whether illegal immigrants should be able to obtain driver's licenses. Obama supports doing so while Clinton initially supported and now opposes it.

"Senator Clinton gave a number of different answers over the course of six weeks on this,'' Obama said, turning to Clinton. "Initially, you said you were for it, then you said you were against it.''

He said he was raising her apparent wavering to underscore that it is "a difficult political issue.''

Clinton called the controversy "a diversion'' from efforts to come up with comprehensive immigration reform.

"I sponsored immigration reform before Barack came to the Senate,'' she said.

The two also reached out quickly to backers of former rival John Edwards, who bowed out of the race Wednesday without endorsing either one. Both praised his efforts in their opening statements.

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