With the Pennsylvania primary just six days away, Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia gave Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama a last chance to settle old and new scores as they headed into a week that could make or break their presidential aspirations. Clinton wanted to extend her five point lead in Pennsylvania, while Obama was trying to unveil a debate performance that reflects the recent national poll figures that show him surging way past Clinton in the areas of trustworthiness and electability.
During the debate, Obama and Clinton each defended their handling of missteps and misstatements on the campaign trail and directed sharp criticisms toward each other. They began their first head-to-head encounter in nearly two months focused on political disputes, rather than upon their relatively narrow policy differences. Obama, who leads in the number of delegates needed to claim the nomination, fielded tough questions about his relationship with his former pastor, his patriotism and his description of small-town voters as “bitter,” the latter a controversy that has engulfed his campaign for much of the past week.
Obama argued repeatedly that voters are smart enough to differentiate petty issues from important economic matters. “So the problem that we have in our politics, which is fairly typical, is that you take one person’s statement, if it’s not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death,” Obama said. “And that’s what Senator Clinton’s been doing over the last four days. And I understand that. That’s politics. And I expect to have to go through this process. But I do think it’s important to recognize that it’s not helping that person who’s sitting at the kitchen table, who’s trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month.”
Clinton addressed questions about voters’ deteriorating level of trust in her after her recent false claims to have ducked sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia. In perhaps her fullest explanations of her Bosnia gaffe to date, she noted she had already apologized and said that while she had gotten the details wrong, she was otherwise proud to have taken the trip. “I may be a lot of things, but I’m not dumb,” Clinton said. “I’m embarrassed by it, I have apologized for it, I said it was a mistake. It is, I hope, something you can look over.”
Clinton, who has been quoted as saying in private conversations that she does not think Obama can win the general election, made her clearest statement to date of her confidence in Obama. When asked whether Obama would win against Sen. John McCain, Clinton adamantly replied: “Yes, Yes, Yes.”
Obama responded by saying that he believes he’s better suited to beat McCain, that his ability to unify the electorate would be the key to winning in November. “When we are unified, there is nothing that we cannot tackle,” he said.
Hillary: “Can Obama Beat McCain? Yes, Yes, Yes!“
Read an article that is extremely critical of the debate’s moderators, as well as of the entire ABC News coverage of the Philadelphia Democratic debate, in this morning’s edition of The Washington Post here.
And Greg Mitchell calls ABC News’ coverage of the debate A Shameful Night for U.S. Media in today’s Huffington Post here.
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